China to join national communications system

by Mary Grow

China select board members voted unanimously at their Dec. 5 meeting to spend $2,000 a year for the next two fiscal years to join a communication system called TextMyGov.

As the name implies, TextMyGov will let residents send texts to China municipal officials and departments at any time and to get a reply. It also allows town government to send information to residents who sign up.

Spencer Frandsen and Jon Myers, joining the Dec. 5 select board meeting remotely from their Logan, Utah, headquarters, explained and illustrated how the system works. Following Frandsen’s directions, select board members whipped out their cellphones, texted a demonstration phone number and a suggested phrase and got a reply.

“Look at that! That is amazing! That is really cool!” board member Janet Preston exclaimed as she read her screen.

The system has three components. Residents can send a question and get an answer from the site the town has set up, which can cover many topics – town office hours and other schedules and deadlines, for example.

Residents can report an issue, like a tree down in the road, at any time, and get a reply saying the report has been forwarded to the appropriate official or department.

Town officials can broadcast notices and messages, routine or emergency, to everyone who has signed up for the service.

Frandsen said TextMyGov has been in business since 2019 and has just over 500 clients, including 10 or 12 Maine municipalities, not all fully set up yet.

It typically takes from 30 to 45 days to set up a new system, Frandsen said. TextMyGov provides free training to employees, and will repeat training as new staff members need it.

Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood estimated the training would take an hour or hour and a half a week. Learning should be simple for employees accustomed to computers.

At board member Blane Casey’s suggestion, the $4,000 for two years’ service will all come from the current fiscal year’s contingency fund, so there will be no impact on the 2023-24 budget.

After the first two years, Frandsen said, contracts are annual. So far, he said, TextMyGov has not raised its fee; should it have to, he is willing to limit annual increases by contract to no more than five percent.

Board members made other decisions on varied topics at the Dec. 5 meeting.

Tom Alfieri and Danny McKinnis from China Rescue attended to follow up on select board members’ Oct. 24 discussion with Delta Ambulance executive director Timothy Beals (see the Oct. 27 issue of The Town Line).

Beals explained that inadequate and delayed insurance payments fail to cover rising costs, so Delta needs to start charging municipalities. He proposed a contract with the town to start in January 2023 and to be funded from the 2023-24 budget.

Alfieri sympathized with Delta’s need to begin charging for services. “Ambulance service in general is a losing business,” and “Emergency work does not pay the bills,” he said.

Alfieri offered suggestions for things to include in the contract. Select board member Brent Chesley suggested Alfieri and McKinnis review and offer advice on the contract when Delta presents a draft; other board members approved the idea, and the rescue representatives accepted.

Chesley raised another issue, suggesting two changes in the Appeals Ordinance that is part of China’s Land Development Code. Hapgood added a third; Preston suggested asked planning board members for their input. By consensus, Chesley was authorized to develop revisions.

Hapgood announced that the town foreclosed on three properties for unpaid taxes. Board members voted unanimously to follow the usual procedure of giving the former owners another 60 days to redeem the properties by paying all taxes due.

The manager gave board members an update on more than a dozen Land Use Ordinance violations currently under review and about to be reviewed.

Board members continued review of town policies, approving a few changes and postponing some policies for more information.

Hapgood relayed Town Clerk Angela Nelson’s reminders that dog licenses need to be renewed by the end of the year, and that 2023 hunting and fishing licenses are now available.

The next regular China select board meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, Dec. 19.


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