CHINA — On the municipal ballot Tuesday, China residents will decide on an issue that has divided town officials and three fire chiefs.

It’s not the volunteer stipends, but the proposal to take a second step toward establishing a consolidated emergency services building that would place one of the town’s three volunteer fire departments (China Village), the police department and rescue department under one roof.

Voting will take place in the town’s portable building Tuesday, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Question 2 asks China voters to approve or reject spending up to $25,000 from the town’s undesignated funds to “contract for the engineering and costing” of the building, which would be municipally owned and also feature a community center for the public. The complex would be built at 571 Lakeview Dr., property China already owns. Voters approved spending up to $5,000 for a developer to conceptualize the structure in the November 2018 election, a measure that overwhelmingly passed, 1,240 to 657.

Fire chiefs Dick Morse, of the South China department, Tim Theriault of China Village and Bill Van Wickler of Weeks Mills wrote in a June 5 op-ed in the Town Line that they “neither need nor want such a building and feel that it would be a waste of the $25,000 to contract for the study since there is absolutely no demonstrated need for an emergency services building.”

They added that the move would “negatively affect membership” would be “enormously expensive” and is “the last thing that we would recommend for the town at this time.” Putting this question on the ballot is “overstepping,” they wrote. Theriault expressed that his department, which would be the only one directly impacted by the creation of a new facility, does not have plans to relocate to a town-owned site.

The South China volunteer fire department in March. Morning Sentinel photo by David Leaming

Each of China’s independent volunteer fire departments currently owns the building that they are based out of.

Town Manager Dennis Heath said the chiefs are trying to portray that he and the selectmen did not include the chiefs in the decision-making related to the potential creation of the complex.

“It’s inaccurate,” Heath said of the June 5 Town Line piece authored by Van Wickler, Morse and Theriault. “To me, it appears that (the chiefs were inaccurate) either out of not remembering or intentionally trying to mislead the voters to vote no based on some inaccurate information.”

Countering the chiefs’ claims that they were not involved with the process of conceptualizing a consolidated building, Heath noted that Theriault “was integral to identifying specific needs within the building in a December 2018 meeting with A.E. Hodsdon Engineering.”

The Budget Committee, which includes two volunteer firefighters, voted that the ballot measure ought not to pass, while the Select Board recommended that it should pass.

At a Select Board meeting Monday night, Selectman Ron Breton read aloud a written statement addressing the ongoing tension with the volunteer fire chiefs over the emergency services complex and costs associated with the three departments. 

“If elected officials feel that a municipal building supporting all three emergency services would benefit the residents, then it is the responsibility of those elected officials to present it to the public for a vote.”

He also suggested that having one municipally run fire department would lower insurance costs for the town and would be cheaper than continuing to rely on three volunteer fire departments. 

Other members of the board distanced themselves from Breton’s statement. 

“We have got to bury the hatchet with the fire chiefs,” Selectman Jeff LaVerdiere said. “It’s becoming a pissing contest … it’s not becoming of the town.”

Chairman Robert MacFarland agreed. He added that he thinks the board has “acted responsibly” and “never asked them to do anything more than what’s required,” referencing the town’s request for the chiefs to indicate how stipends are allocated to members. 

 

Fishermen in their boat take advantage of beautiful weather on China Lake. Morning Sentinel file photo by Michael G. Seamans

PUBLIC ACCESS TO CHINA LAKE

Question 1, which has come with slightly less controversy, asks townspeople to authorize the Select Board to purchase a lot north of the Four Seasons Club for up to $150,000, with $125,000 coming from the lake access reserve fund and $25,000 from tax increment financing. The acquisition would allow the town to provide public access to China Lake.

The details of a partnership between the town and the Four Seasons Club continue to be worked out.

Tom Rumpf, president of the club’s executive committee, said at a May 28 Select Board meeting that the organization would allow the creation of a boat launch but not a public swimming area, as the site the town is looking to buy is too rocky and too close to the club’s private beach space.

Rumpf added that, as part of the deal, the Four Seasons Club would consider selling between 50 and 100 discounted memberships to the town, in hopes that exposure to the site would encourage people to join for more access to the area.

 

RSU 18

Also on the Tuesday ballot, residents will be asked to validate the $38.7 million budget for Regional School Unit 18. The figure was approved by members of the public at a hearing May 16. Voters will also decide whether they would like to keep the validation referendum process, via municipal election, for the next three years or switch to a system whereby China residents approve the budget at a meeting instead.

China is one of five municipalities that make up RSU 18, including Belgrade, Oakland, Rome and Sidney.

There are no races for elected officials on the ballot.

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