CHINA — Residents of China will be tasked with picking two selectmen out of a three-candidate field on Election Day next week. That’s about where the options end on the ballot in terms of officials. All three available planning board seats and one budget committee seat have zero candidates. Two other seats on the budget committee and one on the Regional School Unit 18 board of directors have singular, unopposed candidates, each of whom is an incumbent.

There are six referendums, most relating to medical marijuana, on the ballot as well.

Polls will be open Tuesday from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the portable building across from the Town Office at 571 Lakeview Drive. The last day to obtain an absentee ballot is Thursday, Oct. 31.

Facing off for the two selectmen positions are the current board’s longest-serving member, Irene Belanger; a one-term member of the budget committee, Wayne Chadwick; and political newcomer Todd Tolhurst. Current Chair of the Select Board Bob MacFarland is not pursuing reelection this year after two terms on the board, citing ongoing health issues and getting behind in his business development as motivating factors for the decision. McFarland owns an insulation company.

“I am honored and humbled to have served the fine people of my community and maybe I can do it again in the future,” he wrote in an email to the Morning Sentinel, adding that helping appoint Town Manager Dennis Heath in 2018 was one of the decisions he is proudest of. He said he was “absolutely sickened by some of the accusations by members of our community and the fire chiefs … being made about (Heath).”

Selectman Jeff LaVerdiere stepped down from his position earlier this week, citing frustration over an ongoing conflict between town officials and the chiefs of its three volunteer fire departments. His seat will not be filled in Tuesday’s election.

Belanger, who has been a selectperson for more than a decade, said she wants to continue championing the town and its people if elected to another two-year term. She is well known for representing China on numerous regional committees and sitting on many in-town ones as well. That list includes the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments, Municipal Review Committee, Kennebec Regional Development Authority (FirstPark) and the Spirit of America Foundation, as well as China’s TIF Committee, Transfer Station Committee, Historic Preservation Committee, Economic and Community Development Committee, Comprehensive Plan Committee, China for a Lifetime Committee and others.

“The town of China, I feel, needs to have people out there keeping the town in front,” Belanger, 79, said. “We have a very good reputation, and I’m very proud of that.”

The retired real estate broker said she is particularly proud of the town’s volunteer fire departments and its transfer station. She was one of the people with “boots on the ground for the Fiberight (waste-to-energy) program (in Hampden) to come on board.”

Belanger has served on the China Select Board (1999-2019), China Planning Board (1988-1999), and been appointed to numerous local and regional committees.

“There’s still a lot to be done, and I want to keep that going,” she said about seeking another term on the select board. “And I certainly do enjoy what I do.”

Chadwick, who owns his own construction company in South China, said he would like to “put more common sense into town politics.”

“I’d like to see the town — the select board — and the fire departments make peace and get (tensions over stipends) worked out,” the 53-year-old told the Morning Sentinel. “And I’d like to try and hold the line on spending as much as possible to try to keep the tax rate stable so it doesn’t keep increasing.”

Chadwick said he started regularly attending select board meetings about three years ago to “try and keep an eye on what’s going on,” because he was unhappy with the way things were going.

“But you don’t have much control from the audience,” he said.

Chadwick has unsuccessfully vied for a seat on the select board two other times, in 2017 and in 2018.

Outgoing chair MacFarland warned that in the last six years, “we have gotten the town’s municipal budget down to a minimum level. At this point there is little more the town can remove before the services are being taken away from the residents of town.”

Tolhurst has never before held a public office but plans to take a populist approach to town government if elected.

“I’ve been a resident of China for about 12 years, and in that time I’ve seen an increasing trend of the town manager and the board of selectmen tending to diverge from the will of the people,” Tolhurst, 60, said, later adding, “The town government needs to be reminded who they work for — that they work for the people and not the town.”

He said that in a “government by the people,” officials do not need years of political experience under their belts in order to be effective.

“We’re all landowners here,” Tolhurst said.

While he has not borne any elected titles, he said he has been involved with state politics and was president of Gun Owners of Maine for seven years, which he called a “civil rights organization.”

Tolhurst works as a development director for the Maine Information Network, an independent group that runs the State of Maine’s website. He cited the “considerable controversy over payments of stipends to our volunteer fire departments” as a situation that needs fixing and noted that he hopes to address “ongoing problems with what many see as rather free spending on various items that may or may not be needed by the town.” Specifically, he mentioned disapproval of an $80,000 project to bring three-phase power to the town’s transfer station, whose machines he alleged do not require three-phase power, and the $160,000 purchase of an excavator.

“I’d like to restore accountability to town administration,” Tolhurst said. He suggested that the town’s leaders seek more public opinion before making decisions.

“The question of public participation is a good one,” Tolhurst said in response to a question about how to encourage more residents to get involved with local government. “Even when you have people involved, the town is acting against them or not even seeking their approval.

Problems of accountability are endemic — those need to be addressed first and foremost,” he added. “Public participation is important, but it doesn’t matter if the town won’t listen.”

 

BALLOT QUESTIONS

Four of this year’s six ballot questions will poll residents’ approval of different types of medical marijuana operations within town lines. The first seeks voter opinion on registered caregiver retail stores, the second on registered dispensaries, the third on testing facilities and the fourth on manufacturing facilities. All of these operations will still be required to comply with “all applicable state and local requirements,” the questions note.

Nathan White’s medical marijuana cultivation and retail shop on Route 3 will not be affected by the results of any of these questions, Town Manager Dennis Heath said, because it has been grandfathered in. Clifford Glinko’s recently permitted operation, also on Route 3, will be unaffected as well because the marijuana side of it is considered a cultivation facility, which is protected under state law, and the retail shop will sell only paraphernalia, according to Heath.

“When (Maine legislators) first passed the law that allowed marijuana in the state and differentiated between medical and adult recreational use, the towns didn’t have the ability to stop medical facilities, but they did have the ability to stop adult-use recreational retail operations,” Heath said. “So the town (of China) complied with the law and passed an ordinance that prohibited those recreational adult-use facilities. Most recently, the law was changed to require towns to opt into those four classes of medical facilities. So that’s what (those ballot questions) are about — asking people of the town: is this something you want?

“Rather than going to the trouble of building an ordinance and putting it before the people, we thought to ask first: is this something you want?” Heath added.

He said that if any or all of the four questions passes, the town will “go ahead and build the ordinance.”

The fifth ballot question asks whether voters would want to mandate that, should any of questions 1 through 4 pass, medical marijuana establishments must be set back 1,000 feet from the property lines of a preexisting public or private school. State law does not require a setback but allows municipalities to impose one if they want.

The sixth and final China referendum is a nonbinding advisory question. It asks whether voters would prefer that the town office offer extended service hours on Saturdays from 8 to 11 a.m., as it has in the past, or on Thursdays from 4 to 7 p.m. The select board will then use the results to make a decision.

Regular weekday hours are currently Monday-Friday, 7:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Earlier this year, the China Select Board moved to replace the town’s Saturday hours with an extended Thursday schedule starting Nov. 1 based on a community survey it sent out. The board later reversed the decision and sought voter approval after receiving a number of complaints.

 

OTHER RACES 

China’s planning board is starving for candidates this year, with no one expressing interest or collecting enough signatures to run for three open seats for District 1, District 3 and alternate at-large. One-term members Kevin Michaud and Ralph Howe, who currently represent District 1 and District 3, respectively, are not running for reelection. The alternate at-large seat has been vacant for at least the last year.

On the budget committee, incumbent Kevin Maroon is running for a two-year term representing District 1. Robert Batteese Jr., another incumbent, is seeking reelection as the budget committee’s chairman, a term that also lasts two years. The District 3 seat on the budget committee is blank and may be determined through the write-in option. Chadwick, who currently holds the seat, is not running for reelection because he is pursuing a seat on the select board.

This is the second year in a row that there have been no candidates for at least one spot on the planning board and budget committee. Last year, no one entered the races for at-large positions on both of those government bodies. The roles eventually went to James Wilkens, for the planning board position, and Jeffrey Furlong, for the budget committee seat.

In races with no candidates, the write-in candidate with the most votes in each race will be asked if he or she is willing to serve, according to Heath. If they decline the position, Heath noted, members of the budget committee and planning board, respectively, can recommend a candidate for each open position to the select board, which then votes on whether or not to make the appointments.

Dawn Castner, a second-grade teacher at Mount View Elementary School in Thorndike, is seeking another three-year term on the Regional School Unit 18 board of directors. The school Castner teaches at is a part of School Administrative District 3, posing no illegal conflict of interest.

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