CHINA — Residents at Town Meeting approved a $750,000 economic development project, passed most changes to the land development code and appropriated money to pay emergency responders.

About 150 people attended the Saturday meeting at China Middle School, approving 55 of the 56 warrant articles. The total approved municipal budget was about $2.2 million, not including the money set aside for economic development. The budget includes an increase of $29,000, or 1.32 percent, from last year’s budget. However, it won’t affect the tax rate, because revenue has increased by about $129,000, according to Town Manager Dan L’Heureux.

The articles concerning changes to the land development code took up hours of discussion Saturday morning. Scott Pierz motioned to move the matters up in the warrant so most people would be present for the discussion, which was approved. Pierz is a former town code enforcement officer and the current president of the China Lake Association.

Pierz argued against most of the 10 land-use articles, saying they would remove protections for water quality, among other things.

“These really require greater concentration by the Planning Board and many more meetings to provide information to the general public,” he said. “The lake association feels as though these are taking a big step backwards for the lake.”

China Code Enforcement Officer Paul Mitnik said some of the changes were required by the state, while others were not required but were recommended.

All of the land-use code articles passed, except for one that would change the town’s building measurement standard to footprint, the state standard, making expansions for nonconforming structures both more and less restrictive in different ways.

The changes were voted down at the Nov. 8 ballot as a whole. For Town Meeting, the selectmen separated the changes into 10 articles to make the information clearer to voters. However, some residents suggested that the articles were “rushed” onto the warrant and that the content still wasn’t clear to many voters. Sheri Wilkens, a member of the Thurston Park committee, initially moved to table the items, but unsuccessfully.

Residents approved a $750,000 project for Causeway Road, proposed by a committee that focuses on economic development, despite a question about whether the plan is ready.

The project will be funded through the tax increment finance, or TIF, district, which shields tax revenue from Central Maine Power Co. upgrades from assessment for county and school taxes.

In exchange for capturing the extra tax revenue at full value, the town must spend it on economic development.

Sheri Wilkens asked whether the committee was “putting the cart before the horse” by asking the town for money without specific, detailed plans.

Amber McAllister, chairwoman of the TIF committee, said the panel had to ask for the town’s approval for the project before it could move forward with bids and specific details.

“We really have done as much as we could possibly do to get this in a warrant to you,” she said.

The Causeway Road project proposed by the TIF committee is intended to improve safety in the area, create more parking space, improve the boat launch, install bulkheads along the shore to block runoff and assess the bridge’s integrity. The $750,000 would be spent over the course of three years.

Voters also passed an amendment to the TIF district, which expands the district, increases its revenue and extends its lifetime.

A total $69,169 of TIF money was approved to fund annual budget items, as well.

A proposal to appropriate $40,000 for stipends for emergency responders also was approved, even while some of the town’s fire chiefs expressed concern about the proposal.

“I’m not sure that we’re ready yet,” South China Fire Chief Dick Morris said.

Morris said the proposal came “out of the blue” for his department, and he thought the town should come up with a spending plan before putting it to a vote.

China Village Fire Department Chief Tim Theriault said he felt the same way. Theriault researched area departments and found they all offer stipends, however, so he said he was willing to try the proposal because it is using money from surplus.

Madeline St. Amour — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @madelinestamour

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