CHINA — Though Town Meeting has passed, conversations about stipends are not over.

At a Select Board meeting Tuesday evening, China selectmen unanimously approved an amendment to the town’s internal financial controls policy. The addition requires verification that stipends for individuals in outside organizations that receive town funding have been calculated in accordance with federal and state law before the funds are issued by the town.

This affects about 18 nonprofits that receive municipal funds from the town, including the three volunteer fire departments in South China, China Village and Weeks Mills. The policy update was prompted by an email from the Maine Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, according to Town Manager Dennis Heath.

Of note is that under the Fair Labor Standards Act, no public sector employee can volunteer “without compensation, additional time to do the same work for which they are employed.” Chiefs and ranking officers of volunteer fire departments are not considered public sector employees because they do not work for municipal fire departments.

It is unclear how these rules will affect — if at all — the way that volunteer fire chiefs in China get paid, which has been a contentious issue in the past several weeks. After the Select Board recommended reducing the stipend allocation for firemen based on flat rates for each member, townspeople went on at the Town Meeting to allocate fire and rescue services $7,000 more than what even the departments had requested, overriding the officials’ recommended cuts.

Heath said he and Tim Theriault, chief of the China Village Volunteer Fire Department, went to the Maine Department of Labor together and noted that “we’re all confident that we’re getting the same information.”

We’re going to be canvasing all (18) or so of the nonprofits and charities (that receive town funding),” Heath said. “We’re going to be saying, ‘We know you use volunteers. Are you paying stipends? If you are, how are you paying them? We want to make sure that they’re done correctly so they don’t lose their volunteer status.”

Selectman Ron Breton added that the policy would apply to the whole operating budget, not just stipends. Donna Mills-Stevens supported the idea.

“I just want to make sure that we’re following the state and federal laws,” she said. “We’re not withholding stipends in any way. We’re just following the laws to keep everyone honest.

“Just because they’re the fire department, (they want us to) leave them alone. We can’t do that,” she added, voicing frustration that members of the fire squads have been invited and have chosen not to attend the past several select board meetings to discuss such policies. “It is our job to ensure that we’re following state and federal laws. … We’re doing it for all.”

“We’re also exposing the town to legal challenges (if we don’t implement this),” board Chairman Bob MacFarland said.

The selectmen also voted 5-0 to approve spending $3,500 of contingency funds to convert 72 fluorescent light fixtures in the Town Office to energy-efficient LED fixtures. Heath said that the LED bulbs consume approximately one-eighth of the power that the current lighting does, though said he did not know how much money it would save taxpayers.

“I think that within about 10 months, we will have recovered what we spent (to install the LEDs),” he said.

Currently, the office uses LED bulbs, but the fixtures that hold them are not compatible with the bulbs, so the energy savings are scant.

The town will introduce a new emergency and mass communication system for the town, which would allow officials to contact people instantly if a hazard arises or if a committee meeting is cancelled or re-scheduled at the last minute. It received unanimous approval from the board on Tuesday.

The service, offered by Rochester, New York-based company Hyper-Reach, will cost roughly $3,900 a year, according to Heath. Individuals have to sign up for the service and can opt to receive notifications through a variety of media, including Facebook, Twitter, text message, email and phone call. Heath has familiarity with the system, having used it in Oklahoma before moving to Maine last year. He said the Select Board first investigated the system last year, after Selectman Ron Breton was not notified that a committee meeting had been cancelled and had driven from his camp over 100 miles away to attend it. It was approved by voters in the town budget.

“(I think) people are going to like it,” Mills-Stevens said.

The transfer station is preparing to request $38,000 through the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s waste diversion grant to put toward buying a radio frequency identification system and four four-bin recycling trailers as well as expanding educational outreach. The town would cover about $6,000 through matching funds.

Selectmen authorized Heath to go forward with the grant application, with Selectman Jeff LaVerdiere abstaining from the vote.

Heath said that the purpose of both of those investments is to increase townspeople’s participation in recycling. The radio frequency identification system would help the town more accurately measure and report its progress on the statewide goal of reducing 50 percent of municipal waste by Jan. 1, 2021. Users would be issued a hanging tag for their car rather than a sticker. The mobile recycling bins ideally would make it easier for people to recycle. Heath said the system could divert about 112 tons from going to a landfill.

“Having a trailer that is half a mile away from your house would just make it easier for people to recycle,” said Heath, who proposed placing one near the causeway on China Lake, and one each in the Weeks Mills, South China and Palermo areas.

Do we really wanna see one of those at the head of the lake?” LaVerdiere said. “I don’t know. I’m not crazy about the idea of seeing that. … But it’s a good idea; don’t get me wrong.”

On July 1, the town will start sending its municipal waste and some of its recycling to the Fiberight facility in Hampden. The company’s high-tech machinery can sort out recycling from waste, making it unnecessary to send recycling and waste to the facility separately. However, Heath said it is in the town’s interest to continue separating the materials because it receives revenue from cardboard, No. 2 plastics and demolition debris.

“We might even make money off of the (recycling trailers) because some people don’t feel like dealing with their returnables,” Mills-Stevens said.

Heath said the Budget Committee did not agree with selectmen’s recommendation to move forward with the engineering of a consolidated emergency services building and community center. The Select Board had voted at its last meeting to recommend spending no more than $25,000 on the next step of exploring the possibility of building this structure. The first step was approved by residents in the November 2018 election. Townspeople will cast votes on June 11 from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Budget Committee includes two members of China’s volunteer fire departments. All three fire chiefs have previously expressed that consolidating their departments would be “fixing something that is, in our opinion, not broken.”

The warrant also includes an article that both the Select Board and the Budget Committee support: spending no more than $150,000 to purchase a 5-acre property at 584 Lakeview Drive that would allow public access to China Lake. The lot, north of the Four Seasons Club, is owned by Marcia Hall.

 

Meg Robbins — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @megrobbins

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