China selectmen work on warrant; move town meeting date

by Mary Grow

China selectmen continued work on 2021-22 finances and the warrant for the 2021 town business meeting at their Feb. 16 meeting, including moving the town meeting date.

Instead of Tuesday, May 18, the meeting will be Tuesday, June 8, at the same time as voters approve or reject the 2021-22 school budget. Selectmen currently plan a written-ballot vote; they and Town Manager Becky Hapgood are therefore combining expenditure requests and policies to make the warrant as short as they can.

Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 Superintendent Carl Gartley made a preliminary presentation on school finances. He began with charts showing that China’s school is one of the least expensive of 11 in the area, but students score among the top in standardized tests.

China’s school is “one of the cheapest around and getting some of the best results in the area,” he summarized.

Gartley said grants helped cover extra pandemic-related costs. He expects more special funding in the coming year.

The grants could not be used for normal operations, he said, but they did update the bus fleet. The RSU used local funds to accomplish other goals, like catching up with maintenance and promoting energy efficiency.

At this point, Gartley is predicting about a 2.5 percent increase in the 2021-22 school budget, compared to the current year.

Turning to other parts of the budget, Hapgood said she had information from FirstPark Executive Director James Dinkle that the Oakland-based business park intends to charge China about $25,000 for continued membership, payable in December 2021 and May 2022 – and to return about the same amount in revenue in June 2022.

Selectman Wayne Hapgood thought the park should be doing better, considering Maine’s active real estate market. Hapgood said Dinkle expects to sell all remaining lots, given time.

Selectmen decided they need more information before deciding whether to recommend China continue its FirstPark membership.

Board members authorized Hapgood to apply for a 12-week summer intern through the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center at the University of Southern Maine. Since the intern’s job would be to promote economic development and business investment in China, the Tax Increment Financing (TIF) fund could pay for him or her.

After a brief discussion of Palermo’s use of China’s transfer station and the amount Palermo pays China, board Chairman Ronald Breton said he and Hapgood will talk with Palermo officials.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, March 1.

The food service program, also called the nutrition program or the school lunch program, in Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 (to which Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome, and Sidney belong) is in debt, like many other food service programs in Maine schools. RSU Superintendent Carl Gartley gave China selectmen a clear explanation of the problem.

The program is not part of the regular school budget and is supposed to be self-supporting, Gartley said. Federal subsidies are based on assumed efficient programs, and small schools with individual kitchens like those in RSU #18 are not as efficient as the federal program assumes.

For example, Gartley said, RSU #18 has five separate programs, each with two or three employees, for a total of a dozen or more people. The federal formula assumes six or seven people can feed all the RSU students, and pays accordingly.

Gartley emphasized that unpaid meal accounts do not contribute significantly to the deficit.

RSU #18, again like other Maine school units, has been paying down the program debt as much as possible, given other needs.


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