by Mary Grow
CHINA — China voters had three major issues to deal with at their annual town business meeting March 25: seven articles about the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) program, 10 articles about Land Development Code amendments and a new proposal to recompense emergency services volunteers.
They approved everything except one of the proposed Land Development Code changes. The meeting lasted five hours, and the by the end only about 50 of the 150 voters assembled early in the meeting were still there.
Voters rearranged the agenda to discuss the Land Development Code articles before the TIF questions. The articles were aimed at bringing China’s local ordinance into conformity with new state standards, with the focus on shoreland uses.
Former codes officer and current China Lake Association President Scott Pierz objected to most of the changes, calling the new proposals less protective of water quality and “a step backward” for China Lake. He repeatedly asked whether the planning board had considered other alternatives, rather than a simple choice between current rules and state rules, and whether there had been an independent legal review of the proposed changes.
Current codes officer Paul Mitnik offered explanations as requested. Sheri Wilkens feared the changes would create more work than Mitnik can handle in his part-time position. Her later amendment to add $20,000 to the town administrative budget for additional codes enforcement was defeated.
Voters rejected one proposed change, on a 31-41 vote with many abstentions. China’s rules will not change for measuring a non-conforming structure (one that fails to meet current requirements) in the shoreland when reviewing an application to enlarge it. After two hours’ discussion of land use, voters returned to the TIF articles, one amending China’s TIF program and six authorizing TIF expenditures. The amendment article needed an amendment: as written, it authorized selectmen to approve credit enhancement agreements anywhere in town, but they should be allowed only in TIF districts.
Meeting moderator Richard Thompson ruled the change permissible, because the document is a resolve, not an ordinance, and voters approved the amended amendment. Selectmen held a special meeting March 27 to make the change before forwarding the revisions to the state for expected approval. The revised TIF program incorporates the new Central Maine Power Company substation off Route 3 as a second revenue service. Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux told voters the original source, the expanded CMP power line, pays about $270,000 annually and the revised estimate for the substation is $80,000 a year.
The longest discussion about TIF expenditures was over the proposed causeway project, aimed at expanding boating and fishing opportunities at the head of China Lake’s east basin. Many details remain to be worked out, because, TIF Committee Chairman Amber McAllister explained, committee members did not want to spend time and money on detailed plans before voters authorized the $750,000 requested over three years.
The proposal to set aside $40,000 from China’s surplus account to compensate fire and rescue personnel for time and service got about 10 minutes’ debate before being approved by a large majority. South China Fire Chief Richard Morse repeated his department’s position that rescue personnel but not firefighters should get stipends; China Village Chief Timothy Theriault repeated his department’s position in favor of the proposal and said he has collected ideas for implementing it from neighboring departments.
Annual municipal expenditures were approved with minimal discussion. Afterward, Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said roads to be repaved out of the $741,473 highway appropriation include Parmenter Terrace, Bog Road, Hanson Road, part of Parmenter Road and maybe part of Dirigo Road.
Miscellaneous pieces of information from town meeting discussion include:
- L’Heureux said China got about $15,000 in income from FirstPark this year, in return for almost $38,000 as its assessment for the park. The 2017-18 assessment of slightly over $38,000 will come from the TIF fund, as did the current year’s assessment.
- The recent decision of Oakland Police Department members to unionize will not affect the contract between China and the five members of that department who are China’s police force.
- During the current year, L’Heureux said, selectmen used money from their $45,000 contingency fund to improve handicapped access to the former classroom behind the town office so the building could be used for November 2016 voting. The contingency request was increased to $55,000 for next year – and approved – because it has not increased for about 10 years.
- China has no debt and no plans to incur any, the manager said. Voters applauded. • Transfer Station Committee Chairman Frank Soares said the amendments to two solid waste ordinances that voters approved in no way move toward a pay-per-bag system.
- L’Heureux said the refund voters authorized accepting from the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company as the town transfers to the new Fiberight facility amounts to more than $17,000, with more refunds likely in 2018.
In addition to making decisions, voters heard short presentations from their state legislators, Sen. Roger Katz and Rep. Timothy Theriault; the Thurston Park II and TIF Committees; and Selectman Irene Belanger on behalf of FirstPark. They recognized China’s volunteer firefighters, rescue personnel, committee members and police force. They applauded the volunteers running China’s LakeSmart program, recipients of the Spirit of America award; Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood after Belanger announced that the town report Hapgood and the rest of the office staff prepared earned a superior rating from the Maine Municipal Association; and Debbie Dinsmore, in absentia, for the flowers she sent to decorate the meeting room.
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