China selectmen got some good news and some encouraging news at their April 27 meeting. They also accepted Town Manager Dennis Heath’s offer to have town office staff develop background for reviewing China’s town meeting system, a potential discussion topic at their May 11 meeting.
The good news was from Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 Superintendent Carl Gartley: the 2020-21 school budget, as now proposed, will have a minimal impact on local taxes.
Gartley said China’s share of the RSU’s almost $40 million budget will be $5,048,702, an increase of $5,628.11. Those additional dollars will increase the mil rate (tax rate for each $1,000 of valuation) by 0.11 percent, Gartley said, “almost a flat budget.”
Voters from the five RSU #18 towns (Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney) will approve the budget at the annual open meeting scheduled for 6 p.m., Wednesday, June 17, at Messalonskee High School, in Oakland. The decision made that evening will be subject to ratification by written ballot in each town; voting is scheduled for July 14, along with the state referendum and primary elections.
The encouraging news is that selectmen approved a plan for gradually reopening town services. However, the reopening date is undetermined and out of the town’s control. The plan is to be implemented after Gov. Janet Mills lifts the state-wide stay-at-home order and in accordance with Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.
During discussion of the delayed resumption of recycling at the transfer station, Heath said environmentally concerned residents may add recyclables to the trash they put in the hopper, because at the Fiberight facility recyclables are separated and sold or reused. Recyclables put in the hopper will not be landfilled, he emphasized.
China gets no revenue from recyclables that Fiberight processes. Once recycling can resume without possible danger to transfer station employees, the manager expects China will again earn money from recyclables.
Selectman Janet Preston proposed the discussion of China’s town meeting format, which covered two topics: whether to eliminate the requirement for a quorum (currently 118 voters) at the annual open town meeting, and whether to eliminate the open meeting altogether and replaced it with written-ballot decisions.
Board members offered arguments on both sides of both issues.
Eliminating the quorum requirement would make it easier to hold an open meeting; but it would allow an even smaller minority of voters to make decisions for the whole town.
Eliminating the open meeting would probably encourage more participation, by giving people the option to vote at their convenience during the day; but it would make it harder for voters to get information on ballot questions. Heath said before a written ballot there would be at least two informational meetings that voters could choose to attend.
The selectmen accepted Heath’s offer to explore with town office staff the possibility of changing from an open meeting to a written ballot.
Eliminating the quorum or changing from an open meeting would each require voter approval.
The April 27 meeting was virtual, broadcast and archived at the China website. The May 11 meeting is likely to be virtual as well.
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