Selectmen to ask MDOT for new sidewalks

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen decided at their April 4 meeting to ask the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) to include new sidewalks in North Vassalboro as part of the Route 32 (Main Street in North and East Vassalboro villages) rebuilding project.

Lauchlin Titus and John Melrose voted yes; Robert Brown abstained. Only Titus lives on Main Street (North Vassalboro), and the sidewalk no longer reaches his house.

The reason for hesitation is that although the MDOT will pay for the sidewalks, the town is obligated to plow and sand them. The same rule applies to the existing sidewalks, which are at least 50 years old, audience members said, and have not been a high priority for maintenance.

Melrose, a former MDOT commissioner, said state law allows the state to plow sidewalks when a town doesn’t and to bill the town – but he never heard of the state invoking the law. Later in the evening, he told Budget Committee members that as far as he knows, no other Maine town has turned down state-funded sidewalks.

Before voting to sign the agreement promising to maintain state-provided sidewalks, Titus asked, “Can we in good faith sign something that says we’ll maintain them when we know we might not?”

Reasons for including new sidewalks are that state highway officials and some residents think curbed sidewalks are safer for pedestrians than a paved shoulder, and if Vassalboro decides after the Route 32 project is done to add them, the town will pay construction costs.

Since the project is scheduled for two or three years in the future, Titus said town officials have time to decide whether winter maintenance should be done by the town public works crew or contracted out.

North Vassalboro residents also raised again the issue of increased Vassalboro Sanitary District (VSD) fees.

The VSD needs money to complete its connection to the Winslow-Waterville sewage disposal system. Users have proposed a town meeting warrant article asking taxpayers for money; selectmen declined to add the article and advised on the procedure for putting an article before voters by petition.

Two other funding sources are in the works. Melrose said a decision should be made soon on a state Department of Environ­mental Protection grant; and Titus and Town Manager Mary Sabins said part of Vassalboro’s Tax Increment Finance (TIF) money is likely to be recommended for the VSD by the time the Budget Committee finishes pre-town-meeting deliberations. Almost $300,000 in TIF money has gone into the expansion project already, Titus said. When a resident said Sanitary District officials told him the district’s client list is not public information, Sabins suggested filing a Freedom of Information Act request.

In other business April 4, selectmen agreed to create a small working group to join discussion of rearranging the transfer station. Interested residents should contact town office staff.

Sabins said selectmen agreed to add to the June warrant an article concerning a solar array to generate electricity, without designating a location.

They asked her to seek legal advice on what new arrangement, if any, the town should seek concerning the Riverside fire station, currently used under an old agreement by which it would revert to the lessor – deceased, town officials believe – if the Riverside Hose Company no longer needed it.

Selectmen followed their April 4 regular meeting with an April 8 budget workshop. Melrose proposed three topics: reconsidering the appropriation for solid waste hauling in the transfer station budget; considering additional uses for TIF funds; and making the Public Works Department request for money for grader repairs more flexible, since the grader’s condition and therefore what to do about it are unknowns.

After more than an hour’s discussion, selectmen voted unanimously:

  • To recommend $10,000 less for solid waste hauling, based on the contract price for the service and manager George Hamar’s updated information on the number of trips;
  • To ask Sabins to find out what kinds of town activities and projects are eligible for TIF money; and
  • To ask Sabins to draft a town meeting warrant article asking voters to appropriate money for grader analysis, with anything left over to go toward paving as much as possible of the town garage driveway.

Sabins presented a new proposal, to share membership with China in ITN (Independent Transportation Network), at a cost of $1,000 to $1,250 per year. The organization relies on volunteer drivers to provide rides to senior citizens, with, apparently, freedom for participating towns to set some of their own rules and standards.

Sabins said Christopher Hahn, head of the China for a Lifetime Committee, proposed the joint project to Friends Advocating for Vassalboro Older Residents (FAVOR). Selectmen are interested but would like more information before recommending funds.

The next regular selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, April 18.


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