CHINA — Despite an ongoing conflict between town officials and three volunteer fire chiefs over stipends, there was no discussion of the issue at a Select Board meeting Tuesday night.

The meeting did get heated over a different topic, though — which company should be awarded a contract to mow the town’s properties and ball fields. In the end, it came down to a decision between Danforth Lawncare — which has provided the service for the town for at least 15 years — and Rumpf’s Backyard Services, run by 16-year-old Colby Rumpf, who is starting up his first business.

The Select Board ultimately hired Danforth Lawncare for the job, despite its contracted rates being higher than those of Rumpf’s Backyard Services. Toward the end of the meeting, the decision drew ire from Rumpf’s father, Tom Rumpf, who suggested that the board was “wasting the town’s money” in opting for Danforth’s services.

Another adult member of the public, who attended in part to speak to Rumpf’s work ethic if needed, asked: “If he was not a 16-year-old, would you have (accepted his bid)?” Selectman Ron Breton replied: “Yes,” while other members of the board, including Donna Mills-Stevens and Irene Belanger, said that Breton spoke for himself and not for the board.

Breton presided over the meeting Tuesday because Chairman Robert MacFarland was unable to attend.

Danforth proposed $5,700 for the ball fields, compared to Rumpf’s $2,800. Danforth also proposed $4,175 for the town properties, compared to Rumpf’s $3,500. While both companies said equipment would cost $50 for every additional hour that exceeds the amount specified in the contract, Danforth offered a fee of $25 per hour, per person for each additional hour of labor, while Rumpf’s rate was $30 per additional hour.

Town Manager Dennis Heath told the board that if it selected Rumpf’s Backyard Services, Tom Rumpf would sign the contract for Colby Rumpf in order for the agreement with the teenage minor to be legal. No company would be hired without the proper insurance and “all the requirements for being a contractor,” Heath said.

Initially, the board was split 2-2, with MacFarland absent, over which company to hire for the ball fields. Breton and Belanger voted in favor of awarding the gig to Rumpf and Mills-Stevens and Jeff LaVerdiere voted against that decision. In a second motion, this time to approve awarding the ball fields mowing job to Danforth, Breton and Belanger flipped, and the vote was 4-0.

“I think that he’s got a lot of experience, he knows what he’s doing, it’s probably a fair bid, and we know he’s reliable,” Breton said just before voting to give the contract to Danforth. “I feel pretty comfortable that it will get done right.”

The board then unanimously approved the hiring of Danforth Lawncare to mow town properties as well, casting aside Rumpf’s bid and a high bid of $5,100 from Ace Home & Camp Care. Danforth Lawncare was the only company to submit a bid for town cemetery mowing, and the board unanimously approved the $18,000 figure to cover that responsibility.

Heath and the Select Board recognized Bill Danforth, of Danforth Lawncare, in the audience Tuesday evening and asked him clarifying questions during the discussion period.

Mills-Stevens asked whether anyone could speak to Colby Rumpf’s character, and Belanger replied, “I don’t know him, but I’ve heard good things.” Tom Rumpf later said he did not speak up before the vote on the bids because he was not directly addressed by Breton, who said he did not know he was present at the time. Tom Rumpf is a member of the town’s Budget Committee.

The Board rejected the only two bids it received for materials like gravel, mulch and cold patch after Public Works Director Shawn Reed reported that un-contracted “street prices” were better than the offers the town received. The officials postponed a decision on equipment rentals so that they could research delivery fees, which the town had not initially requested in the bids, but could alter the final costs. The decision will be made at the next select board meeting June 10.

 

OTHER BUSINESS

Heath indicated that the town is facing the possibility of having to raise either the mil rate or property values.

“Our town valuation of $406 million and change is almost 10% below what the state valuation is,” Heath said Tuesday night. “(Assessors’ Agent Bill Van Tuinen) helped me understand that when it gets to that point, and you start getting wider and wider, what happens is you get forced into reducing the value of the homestead exemption and other exemptions like veterans’ exemptions … that reduce peoples’ taxes. So (Van Tuinen) has a proposal … to make an adjustment that would essentially raise everybody’s property values but keep the mil rate from climbing. The bottom line is, one way or another, either the mil rate is going to go up or property values are going to go up. It’s inescapable.”

LaVerdiere expressed strong disapproval for the idea.

“We’re taxed to death already, and I for one am not happy about hearing this news,” he said, later adding, “It scares the hell out of me how much they’re taking out of us already. I’m closing my business partially because I want a little less stress but also because it’s impossible to make money unless you’re a big corporation or you have some great product or something. … I can just see this not helping us to get more people to move in, but actually scaring people and small businesses away.”

Van Tuinen will present his proposal at the next Select Board meeting June 10.

In other business, the selectmen unanimously authorized Heath to move forward with a plan to convert lighting at the transfer station to LEDs. Heath said the transfer station is the last town building to undergo the energy-saving conversion. The proposed cost for the conversion, which would come from the capital expense account, is $5,025. It will be reduced by a roughly $1,400 rebate and will ultimately reduce the town’s electric bill, though Heath was unable to specify how long it would take before the energy savings paid off the cost of the LED conversion.

Board members authorized Heath to submit a $1.1 million rural broadband grant proposal to the United States Department of Agriculture. After speaking with a representative from the USDA involved in the grant process, Heath said he learned that the proposal would be more competitive if it took a “more regional approach.”

“What’s easy about that is that the way we propose to build this, it will already reach about 25% of the populations of (four) neighboring municipalities: Vassalboro, Windsor, Palermo and Albion,” Heath said. 

Vassalboro and Albion have given Heath permission to include their towns in the China proposal, but Heath said he is still waiting to hear from Windsor and Palermo, and does not want to submit the grant without their permission.

None of the towns would be required to pay any money for the infrastructure if the grant is accepted this year. Next year, proposals will be funded 85% and recipient towns would have to match 15% of the total costs.

The elected officials also signed off on a settlement with 3 Level Farm Community Solar Association, which was preparing to sue the town in superior court after the board of assessors rejected a request for a tax abatement reaching back to 2017. The settlement set a 16-year schedule over which the value of the equipment would decrease to zero in 2035. The solar farm is located on Vassalboro Road in South China. There are six owners listed on the settlement: Robert and Kathleen Flory, Joseph Higden, Ellen Sidow, Christopher Lyman and Lorinda Frazer.

After coming out of executive session to discuss a personnel issue, the board voted to authorize Heath to poll the public about “ideas for closing the Town Office on Saturdays.”

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