Town meeting to be by written ballot only; warrant reduced to 24 articles

by Mary Grow

At their May 11 regular meeting, China selectmen rescheduled and reformatted the annual town business meeting to meet current health requirements and approved reduced 2020-21 expenditure requests in anticipation of revenue shortfalls.

The business meeting will be held Tuesday, July 14, and will be by written ballot. Polls will be open in the former portable classroom behind the town office from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. Town Manager Dennis Heath reduced the meeting warrant to 24 articles, each worded so it can be answered either yes or no.

The revised budget figures were the topic of a May 5 special meeting of the selectmen and the budget committee. They were approved with all but one member of each board present. Most decisions were unanimous.

Heath told the two groups he expects next year’s excise taxes will be $127,500 below initial projections, as residents postpone buying new vehicles; state revenue sharing will drop by $100,000; and local road assistance will be $10,000 below the prior estimate.

To offset the decreases, the revised warrant asks for $389,372 less spending than originally planned.

Three major proposed expenditure reductions are:

  • In the administrative other account, more than $86,000, by postponing building the planned document storage addition to the town office and the requested outdoor classroom in the China School Forest behind China Primary School.
  • In the public works budget, $74,000, by reducing the amount of repaving. Instead of adding a mile to begin to catch up on postponed work, the revised budget would cut a mile and a quarter.
  • In community support organizations, $44,000 reductions in the appropriations for the China Lake Association and the China Region Lakes Alliance, mostly by postponing work that would have been done under the LakeSmart program.

The cuts are partly offset by increases in insurance premiums, which range from a few hundred to a few thousand dollars, Heath said.

To shorten the warrant and reduce the time voters spend at the polls, some articles were combined. For example, Art. 5 now includes appropriations requests for association dues, welfare and social service agencies, which were previously three separate votes.

Two proposed articles to add to law enforcement, by hiring a full-time policeman or by contracting with the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Department, have been deleted.

At the selectmen’s regular meeting May 11, they gave final approval to the revised procedure and the revised warrant.

Heath said the warrant in the annual town report, available at the town office, is out of date. He plans to mail the approved warrant to town voters.

Heath said he learned that voters’ decision some years ago to hold local elections by secret ballot in November can be interpreted as authorization to do the entire town meeting by secret ballot. He recommended that selectmen use the written-ballot process this year due to the pandemic, and later ask voters to decide whether to eliminate the open town meeting permanently.

Selectmen approved the plan, with Wayne Chadwick commenting that this year could be “a test run.”

In other action May 11, selectmen unanimously approved a two-year contract to continue using the Waterville Police Department’s dispatching center to answer China’s 911 calls for fire and rescue services. Heath said the approximately $3,000 increase in the cost of the service is included in the proposed 2020-21 budget.

Board Chairman Ronald Breton recommended a future study of alternative dispatching options, in case they have changed since China chose the present system.

Heath asked selectmen to review two documents he distributed to them by email, a report on the transfer station and the draft revised comprehensive plan prepared by the town’s Comprehensive Planning Committee and Kennebec Valley Council of Governments planner Joel Greenwood.

In the interval between meetings, Heath announced by email two steps toward reopening town functions:

  • Beginning May 12, walk-up window service is available at the town office.
  • Beginning May 13, the transfer station is again accepting demolition debris, in addition to mixed waste.

The next regular China selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 26, postponed from the usual Monday evening because of the Memorial Day holiday. According to Heath, this would be the final Zoom-only meeting, since the governor has indicated that June 1, 2020, is the first day the stay-at-home order is lifted.


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