AUGUSTA — An investment research firm has downgraded Maine’s $5.3 billion NextGen college savings plan.

Chicago-based Morningstar cited regulatory issues for its decision to downgrade it two notches from, “above average” to “below average” in its annual 529 educational savings plan ratings report, according to Reuters.

The plan is operated by Merrill Lynch and administered by the Finance Authority of Maine.

In January, the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority fined Merrill Lynch $500,000 for a lack of proper supervision over how its representatives sold the plan. FINRA found that advisers failed to discuss with investors who were sold the NextGen plan tax benefits that were available, which Merrill Lynch has worked to correct. Morningstar also found that the NextGen plan’s fees are higher than the average adviser-sold plan.

Hundreds of Mainers enter the plan via free, $500 grants given to newborns by the Harold Alfond Foundation.

State Treasurer Bruce Poliquin and Finance Authority of Maine CEO Beth Bordowitz both downplayed the rating change, saying it’s unclear how Morningstar devises its ratings.

Chelsea groups meet this week

CHELSEA — Several town groups will meet this week, including the Budget Review Committee at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday and the Board of Assessors at 6:30 p.m. Thursday.

The Road Advisory Committee will meet at 8:30 a.m. Saturday. All meetings will be at the Town Office.

Tour and talk to examine downtown Augusta

AUGUSTA — A downtown walking tour and “visioning session” will take place Wednesday to draw ideas for the downtown’s future.

Augusta Downtown Alliance President Larry Fleury said the event is to gather input from stakeholders for a blueprint and vision for downtown.

The free event will start at 3 p.m. at the bus depot in Market Square on Water Street, with a walking tour of downtown.

During the tour, Roxanne Elfin of the Maine Downtown Center will discuss what other downtowns have done to overcome obstacles and use their assets. Local historian Phyllis vonHerrlich will give an overview of major properties and the downtown’s history.

Participants then will gather at the Downtown Diner for refreshments and a discussion with city officials about revitalizing downtown.

If it rains, the entire session will be held at the Downtown Diner, on Water Street.

Gardiner city worker receives award

GARDINER — Arthur Robinson, chief operator of waste water for the city of Gardiner, recently received the Founders Award from the Joint Environmental Training Coordinating Committee.

The committee gives this award each year to “an individual who has long-term service in a Maine waste water system, meritorious service during a significant event, accepted additional responsibility that resulted in a benefit to the community and has been involved in the community away from the job.”

City Manager Scott Morelli said Robinson is certainly very deserving of this award and it speaks volumes about his competence as the city’s chief operator. “Our city has exceptional personnel and I am pleased to see Art honored for excellence in his profession,” Morelli said.

Robinson has been employed at the waste water treatment facility since 2004.

Vassalboro Planning Board to look at four items

VASSALBORO — Two subdivision amendments and two business proposals are on the agenda for today’s Planning Board meeting.

The Planning Board meets at 7 p.m. in the Town Office.

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