CHINA: Town and Direct Communications, Unitel to work on broadband expansion
by Mary Grow
China select board members have taken under advisement a memorandum of understanding with Direct Communications of Rockland, Idaho, represented locally by subsidiary UniTel, of Unity, to expand broadband service to town residents.
Members of China’s Broadband Committee (CBC) discussed a cooperative arrangement at several meetings, the most recent an hour and a half before the July 5 select board meeting. UniTel representatives had just received the proposed memorandum from Idaho; CBC members reviewed it and handed it on to select board members.
As they expected, select board chair Ronald Breton postponed action until board members and the town attorney have given the document full review. The proposed agreement is tentatively on the July 18 select board agenda.
In summary, it says the town and the companies will work cooperatively on an expansion of China’s broadband service, starting with offering service to houses that currently are unserved or underserved (have no broadband connection, or have service that is slow, unreliable or otherwise unsatisfactory).
Total project cost is estimated at around $1.2 million. China will be asked to contribute $370,000, $100,000 up front and the remainder over nine years.
Direct Communications and UniTel will match the town amount; other funds, especially a state grant aimed at underserved and unserved areas, will provide the rest of the money. Direct Communications will build and maintain the broadband network, which will belong to the company. Users will be charged locally competitive fees.
If the project fails to receive a state grant, participants in the July 5 discussions said reluctantly that it would not go forward.
Assessor William Van Tuinen attended the July 5 select board meeting to conclude the discussion about property valuations he started at the June 6 meeting (see The Town Line, June 16, p. 3).
Van Tuinen proposed, and select board members unanimously accepted, several changes applicable to different building types, lot locations and specific neighborhoods. He based his recommendations on sales data from the fiscal year ending June 30, 2021, disregarding 2022 price increases, an approach he called first “reasonably conservative” and later in the discussion “very conservative.”
The goal of the changes is to keep China’s land and building valuations close enough to state valuations to avoid penalties. Van Tuinen expects to achieve this goal; and, he said, being conservative means that if property prices start falling, China should be able to avoid or minimize downward valuation adjustments.
In other business July 5, Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood shared a handout showing that China has received $454,887.08 in American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. Voters at the June 14 town business meeting approved uses for $132,200, leaving a balance of $322,687.08.
One of CBC Chairman Robert O’Connor’s suggestions is that China’s $370,000 contribution to broadband expansion come partly from ARPA money.
Breton, responding to a complaint from a resident, said he intends to pursue a new town ordinance that would limit hours for fireworks. State law allows them from 9 a.m. to 10 p.m. on weekdays and 9 a.m. to 12:30 a.m. on weekends, he said.
Breton agreed with both concerns the resident expressed: fireworks in general are hard on veterans and other people with PTSD (Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder), and late-night fireworks are hard on people who have to go to work the next morning.
Hapgood said she will look for ordinances from other Maine towns as possible models.
The manager encouraged select board members to volunteer for China Community Days activities. The annual celebration, scheduled for Aug. 5 through Aug. 8 this year, is a chance for officials to meet their constituents informally, she said.
Hapgood again reminded those present that nomination papers for local elective office will be available at the town office Aug. 1. On Nov. 8, China voters will choose three select board members, three planning board members, four members of the budget committee and one representative to the Regional School Unit #16 board of directors.
The next regular China select board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 18, in the town office meeting room.
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