VASSALBORO: Officials, residents present ideas for future town improvements

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro select board members, Town Manager Mary Sabins and other residents presented ideas for future town improvements at the select board’s Oct. 21 goal setting session.

Board Chairman Robert Browne summarized the three proposals that he thinks should be considered first as:

  • Surveying residents to see whether opposition to zoning is as strong as it was earlier in the century, when zoning ordinances were rejected and the state-mandated town comprehensive plan was retitled a strategic plan, including only state-required zones. Currently, Browne pointed out, town officials and voters are doing piecemeal zoning, through ordinances that regulate locations of activities like medical marijuana facilities.
  • Expanding the town recreation program in many directions, with possibilities including providing more open space for outdoor activities and perhaps building a recreation center; adding more adult activities; creating the park on town-owned land on Outlet Stream that Sabins recommends (“Mary’s fishing hole,” Browne called it); adding lighted outdoor basketball and tennis courts (another suggestion from Sabins); and hiring a new town employee whose responsibilities would include directing a recreation program.
  • Developing a financial plan with short-term and longer-term components that would let town officials continue to pay competitive salaries to employees, update equipment and deal with unexpected expenses like the Gray Road culvert, all without going into debt.
    Other suggestions included:
  • From select board members Barbara Redmond and Chris French, more control over and limits on solar development, especially on farmland. Both support solar power, but want a balance with other values.
  • From Redmond, a transition plan for Sabins’ retirement (which Sabins said she plans in mid-2024). Others said the proposal might lead to hiring a new town employee to take over grant-writing and tax work, who might also be the recreation program head and, Browne suggested, work with school officials.
  • From French, a more stringent procurement policy for town purchases, including services, perhaps with budget committee involvement.
  • From Sabins, an increase in the codes officer’s hours, now 20 a week. She gave two reasons: in the spring, building permit applications take a great deal of time; and she would like incoming codes officer Ryan Page to have more hours and benefits as an incentive to stay in Vassalboro.

She said Page has already committed to work for the town for a year, in return for his training under Paul Mitnik. Mitnik, who has retired repeatedly and returned to work when no one replaced him, hopes to retire for good at the end of December.

Sabins and audience members mentioned other issues town officials are facing.

Sabins reported the new fishway at the Outlet Dam, in East Vassalboro, was finished Oct. 20. A temporary boardwalk across the stream is to be removed, because although the bridge is sturdy, the railings are unsafe. And, she said, the dam, which belongs to the town, is leaking.

Former Town Manager Michael Vashon advised abandoning the dam. The Kennebec Water District would be highly likely to take over maintenance, he said, since China Lake is the district’s water supply.

Sabins said Matt Streeter, who managed the fishway project for Maine Rivers, will look into options for dam repairs. A new method of injecting material from the top might be reasonably inexpensive, she said.

Public Works Foreman Eugene Field said the state-owned, weight-limited Cushnoc Road bridge is a burden on the public works department. The only truck he has light enough to plow it is designated for primary use in North Vassalboro; the bridge is in the south end of town.

Field predicts the state will gradually lower the weight limit and eventually close the bridge, rather than rebuild it.

Another problem, he said, are the “terrible” sidewalks in North Vassalboro, a comment that led to discussion of the sewer manhole covers that are lower than the new pavement. Vashon called them “an accident waiting to happen” as drivers swerve toward oncoming traffic to avoid them.

North Vassalboro resident and former select board member Lauchlin Titus said a state Department of Transportation inspector told him next year, the state will add new curbing and sidewalks, and another layer of pavement.

Sabins said because the federal and state governments have created a new holiday, Juneteenth (celebrated on June 19 each year), Vassalboro’s staff handbook needs to be revised. It says staff get state and federal holidays off and lists the holidays; Juneteenth needs to be added.

Titus suggested other changes that might be considered while the topic is open. Sabins said select board members and staff need to approve all changes.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Nov. 18. There will be no meeting Oct. 28 or Nov. 4.


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