Friday, November 8, 2019

Fighting for lower property taxes

By Senator Bill Diamond

It’s something I hear all the time — at community events, football games, when I’m checking out at  
the grocery store — people want to know what I’m doing to lower their property taxes.

The truth is high property taxes hurt all of us: They stifle business growth and drive up rents. They make it harder for people to buy their first home and start building equity and credit. They are an additional burden on family budgets that are already stretched thin. Seniors on fixed incomes can find themselves in a position where they can’t afford to keep living in the home they’ve been in their whole lives.

It’s just not fair.

Of course, there has to be a balance. Towns and cities need revenue to provide services like police, fire departments, ambulance, road maintenance, schools and more, and by law they have very few options outside of property taxes for raising that revenue. But there are things the state can do to ease this burden on property taxpayers.

This year, in the Legislature, we took some steps to tackle high property taxes. Specifically, we passed a bipartisan budget, without raising income or sales taxes, that provides $130 million in new and expanded property tax relief programs.

Most homeowners are probably familiar with the Homestead Exemption program, which allows qualifying homeowners to reduce the assessed value of their home by $20,000 when they pay their property taxes, in order to lower their overall property tax bill. It’s available to anyone who has lived in the home they own for more than a year, and all you have to do to sign up is fill out a short application at your town office. This year, the Legislature increased the deduction amount from $20,000 to $25,000, which takes effect for property tax years starting on or after April 1, 2020. We also authorized a $100 refund from the state to be paid out to anyone who qualified for the Homestead Exemption on or before April 1, 2019. Those checks will be sent out in January and February.

The Property Tax Fairness Credit is another program from the state that provides relief to certain low-income property taxpayers. The program allows folks who qualify to receive a refundable income tax credit for the property taxes they paid in a given year, up to $750, or $1,200 for qualifying seniors over the age of 65. In the latest budget, we expanded the eligibility of this program to cover more people. That change takes effect in 2020, so you should check to see if you qualify when you file your income taxes for that year.

Finally, in the latest budget, the legislature also increased the amount of money paid directly to towns and cities through revenue sharing and school funding, to help them cover their costs and take some of that burden off property taxpayers.

These changes move us in the right direction, and I promise to keep fighting for lower property taxes in coming years.

As always, please feel free to contact me or my office with any questions, comments or concerns. You can call (207) 287-1515 or email me at diamondhollyd@aol.com. It’s a pleasure to serve as your state senator.




Local parent teacher organizations, associations and businesses work together for safety of school children

By Lorraine Glowczak

Children’s safety has become an issue in the Windham and Raymond communities as students wait at the end of their driveways and roadways to enter the buses that take them to school. In recent weeks, parents have recorded on their cell phones and shared on social media – the many drivers who have sped past a stopped school bus. The bus, with its blinking lights; stop sign extended is indicating the driver to stop so young students can cross the road safely and enter the bus. Unfortunately, many drivers have not stopped, as required by law – putting our children’s well-being at risk.  

RSU14 parent organizations, associations and businesses in both Windham and Raymond schools are gathering to create a solution. Together, they are raising funds to install “arms” extending the flashing stop sign on buses, so it makes it more apparent – and more difficult – for drivers to speed past a stopped bus.

http://www.eaglesushi.com/“When it comes to the safety of kids it makes absolute sense to combine resources and join with other likeminded groups, organizations and businesses to ensure the greatest impact is made for not only the RSU14 system but in other communities as well,” stated Ernesta Kennedy, Windham PTA President.

As a result, the organizations have decided to collaborate, starting a fundraiser to put the extended stop arms on the buses. The Windham PTA and Odyssey Angels as well as the Raymond PTO, along with the RSU14 and the towns, are working together to help with this problem. 

According to their newly developed fundraising website, Operation: Stop Arm, it is stated: “For many parents and residents, our biggest concerns are that of the safety of our children, however the safety of them getting on and off the bus shouldn’t have to be one of those concerns.”

Kennedy explained that drivers not stopping for school buses is a major problem in Windham and have created a solution. “We are raising money to purchase 15 extended stop arms for the RSU14 buses. Donations of any size will help, and every dollar raised is one more bus closer to our goal!

As stated on the website, the cost per bus is $2,100 and the total PTA/PTO fundraising goal $32,250.
To get involved and provide funds to keep the RSU14 students safe, make a financial contribution to: www.windhammainepta.org or contact Ernesta Kennedy at operationstoparm@gmail.com

Manchester school students celebrate National Farm to School Movement

By Joe McNerney

Hands were washed and chef hats were on as fourth and fifth grade students entered the cafeteria. In the middle of many tables, freshly grown carrots were set and ready to be used. This is what the scene looked like on Monday, November 4 at Manchester School. In a recent press release, it was announced that the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation & Forestry and the Maine Department of Education teamed up with the Manchester School to promote the growing farm-to-school movement in Maine.

“The students participated in a day of activities to celebrate growing, harvesting and eating local food. The event was designed to raise awareness about the importance of local food, school gardens and the relationship schools are developing with local farms to provide fresh, quality fruits, vegetables and produce to Maine schools,” stated the press release.

http://www.thegoodlifemarket.com/Stacey Sanborn, fourth grade teacher, explained how the food is grown by the students. “We tend to the hoop house all school year,” she said. “Students help maintain and pick vegetables and sometimes we are able to send the food home that has been produced by the student for students in need.”

Briefly, a hoop house is a form of greenhouse that consist of a series of large hoops or bows—made of metal, plastic pipe or wood covered by heavy plastic. It is heated by the sun and cooled by the wind. Although winter is coming, and some students may be less than thrilled to trudge through snow, they will none the less keep up on the hoop house. 

Ryan Roderick, head chef and nutrition coordinator for and Jeanne Reilly, director of school nutrition,
led the educational sessions with the students. During the class, students from fourth and fifth grades made fresh curried carrot soup and carrot muffins. 

Students had the opportunity to wash, peel, chop carrots and onions as well as sauté the vegetables. For the muffins, students grated carrots, measured and mixed the ingredients and portioned them into muffin cups. At the end of the class, students and teachers all were able to try the soup and muffins made with carrots from their school garden and fully experience what the farm-to-school experience is all about.

“It was refreshing to see young faces so excited about cooking,” stated Pam Lanz who had worked with the school for 21 years as a guidance counselor prior to taking up her post as garden leader. “Many of the students are hesitant to try most of the vegetables. However, when peers try, they are more likely to give it a chance.”

Once the ingredients were ready, some students prepared muffins while the others prepared the carrot curry soup. Which was garnished with Greek yogurt and chives.
Students all agreed and said with pride after eating the food they had prepared, “The food tasted better because we cooked it.”

Teaching kids at a young age that there is value to growing and making your own food is outstanding. It teaches the art of horticulture and self-sustainability. “Many of our students tale home what they learn,” Sanborn said. “They share it with parents and hopefully they in turn will start gardening more.”

Lanz quickly agreed, “We want to make backyard farmers out of them all.”

The Manchester School is one of the more than 400 Maine schools that participate in a farm-to-school program. The event was designed to raise awareness about the importance of local food, school gardens and the relationship schools are developing with local farms to provide fresh, quality fruits, vegetables and produce to Maine schools.



Friday, November 1, 2019

Congratulations to this year's "Trunk" winners

Windham Parks and Recreation Trunk or Treat event was a hair-raising hit. Congratulations to the follow "Trunk" winners:

Business Trunk Winner: Mainely Ticks with Michael Myers Trunk
Community Organization Winner: Boy Scouts Troop #805 w Haunted Campsite & Friends
Individual Winner: Heather Plati w Deadly Dinner Trunk

Before the memory fades: The recycling of a Windham one-room schoolhouse

By Walter Lunt

It’s not a rare occurrence for the Windham Historical Society (WHS) to receive donations of antiques. The society accepts and preserves scores of historic items from Windham’s rich and storied past – everything from old-time tools to Victorian-era furniture.

The old schoolhouse 
What is rare is when a donation comes in at the exact time it’s needed – for example, to complete a museum display.

The Millett family of Windham recently offered a school desk from the early one-room Bodge schoolhouse. Lineous Millett, brothers Tom and Everett and sister Nancy Fish said the two-student desk, well used but in good condition, has been stored in the family barn for 85 years.

It happens that, within the past year, WHS has reconstructed and opened a typical one-room schoolhouse on the grounds of its Village Green at Windham Center. Preferring to furnish the 19th century themed schoolhouse only with desks, benches and materials original to Windham, the donation was a welcome and needed addition.

The ancient stand-alone desk has the appearance one would expect from decades of use and turn-of-the century construction – a wooden writing surface supported by an ornate cast-iron stanchion and adorned with the usual name engravings and graffiti.

The Plummer home with recycled building materials from t
he schoolhouse
What do we know about the Bodge School? Very little, it turns out. But one thing we do know, said Windham resident Gary Plummer, is that when the town closed down and sold Bodge School in 1934, his father bought it for the sum of $100,  disassembled the structure  and utilized the materials to build a house the Plummer family lived in for the next 80+ years.

Becky (Plummer) Delaware said the rebuild was done over a period of two years as time and funds permitted. “The floor downstairs was a beautiful fiddlehead maple from the schoolhouse.”
Gary’s father, Bill Plummer, had help with the tear-down from near-by resident Lineous Millett (grandfather of the aforementioned Milletts).

When Bill Plummer decided he didn’t want the contents of the school, Millett put the desk and some books in his barn where they remained until their use would come full circle and be returned to the WHS one-room schoolhouse this year.


L to R: Becky (Plummer) Delaware, Gary Plummer, Nancy Fish, School Marm Paula Sparks, Thomas Millett, Everett Millett, Lineous Millett, front Junior Historian Delia Tomkus with the Bodge School desk donated to the Windham Historical Society’s Village School

The schoolbooks, which were also donated to WHS, include an 1848 copy of “Weld’s English Grammar”, which points out in the preface “…prepared with special reference to the wants of the younger classes…” 

Page one explains how the teacher should direct the scholars to verbally sound consonant letters while writing them on slates. Another text, “The Beginner’s American History” – copyright 1902, opens with a chapter on Christopher Columbus and concludes with the assassination of President William McKinley.

The move renewed Gary Plummer’s interest in the history of the old Bodge school building. He has since been a frequent patron of the Windham Historical Society’s research library.

How did the school take its name? Where was it located? How many years was it in operation? And what do we know about its teachers and scholars? Details on Plummer’s research next time, before the memory fades.  


New skate park opens in Windham: A popular destination for skateboarders from miles around

By Matt Pascarella

In 1999, Windham opened a wooden skate park as a joint effort with the police department and the recreation department. This park was enjoyed by skaters for many years. By 2016, the park had to be shut down because of disrepair.

What followed was a plan to replace the skate park as part of a larger community park which would also include basketball and volleyball courts and walking paths. Recently, the new skate park opened on Gray Road near the Public Safety building.

Last year, skaters attended the Windham Community Skate Park public meeting at Windham Town Hall to discuss the design of a new skate park. Windham resident, skater and individual involved with the process from the beginning, Matthew Howe was in attendance.

From the user’s perspective the old skatepark was fully functional but from the perspective of a structural engineer it just was unsafe and had to go,” observed Howe.

Howe went on to say that the skatepark design meeting started by the skaters talking about Windham Skatepark history as well as Mackenzie MacVane.

As stated in a previous Windham Eagle article, ‘MacVane of Windham died at the age of 13 in an accident at El Weir Dam. He left a memorable mark on his friends. He was a member of the Dare to Adventure Program, a community program supervised by School Resource Officer, Matthew Cyr. “He was perhaps one of the most positive people a person could meet,” Cyr said in an email interview.’

Present at the public meeting was an American Ramp Company representative who gave the skaters a questionnaire so everyone had input on the new skatepark. “The process made me very happy and seemed solid; left me feeling excited for the future,” said Howe.

The skate park is a project headed by the Parks and Recreation Department in conjunction with the Parks and Recreation Advisory Committee. “When that park needed to come down, it was time to start fresh. The concrete park with that plaza style skating is kind of the trend and what people are interested in now. We decided that’s the direction we should head,” explained Linda Brooks, Windham Parks and Recreation Director.

“We ended up seeking land and water conservation funds, to be able to do the project,” stated Brooks. “That requires a match by the town; basically it’s 48% the federal government and 52% the town. We had to put the project out to bid, that’s a requirement.”

The bid estimate came in at $170,000 for the skate park. Brooks explained that constructing the community park would be done in phases and phase one was getting the skaters skating again. So far, they are on budget.

“Our hope is that we can get an extension of time for the grant process...[a]state contact indicated we could likely apply for an extension of grant funding and time and continue getting some more work done; in the process of working toward that end,” added Brooks.

“Additionally, we will continue to budget out through the capital improvement plan, the use of impact fees that get distributed to the department for development and expansion of recreational facilities. As the funding becomes available, we will continue to work on subsequent phases of the project.”

BMX biker Logan Tripp, 19, a Direct Support Professional and Certified Residential Medication Aide from Oxford Hills, drove 45 minutes to get to the new skate park.“A couple of my buddies on Instagram said, ‘come and shred the park’. I used to shred it back in the day, when it was wood. Pretty decent park now, I like it.”

Howe has been to the skate park every day since it opened and said, “once you skate there, you’ll never want to leave.”

“We know it was hard, the park appeared ready to be skated on two weeks prior to us saying ‘yep it’s open now,’ so we appreciate the skater’s patience. We’re happy we were able to get that logo back up to honor McKenzie MacVane.”

“We’re looking forward to doing a grand opening next spring,” concluded Brooks.