February 7

OUR OPINION: Thumbs up, thumbs down

Quick takes on the issues making news this week in central Maine.

THUMBS UP to the new teaching kitchen at the Alfond Center for Health, which drew more than 230 people to an open house last week.

The kitchen, part of the hospital’s Prescott Community Education Pavilion, will be used to teach area residents about healthy cooking. It is part of the wellness effort at the new facility, aimed at lowering health care costs through prevention.

A nutritional diet is the cheapest and easiest way to improve health outcomes. The teaching kitchen sends that message from inside the hospital, strengthening the link between eating right and staying healthy.

“Many times you hear it’s too expensive or it’s too hard to cook or it can’t be quick,” MaineGeneral CEO Chuck Hays said. “It’s really to demonstrate to the community that you can cook healthy, you can eat healthy, and actually have them try different foods.”

THUMBS DOWN to a pair of local budget issues that illustrate the ongoing problems caused by Great Recession-era cutbacks.

The proposed $5.4 million budget for the town of Fairfield avoids a tax increase or a significant loss in services only by using $260,000 of surplus funds. Town Manager Josh Reny called the use of surplus “unsustainable, obviously.”

“To be blunt, we are in a holding pattern, waiting to see if our nation and our state come out of the recession,” he said.

In a similar vein, Regional School Unit 18, the Messalonskee school district, found itself in trouble at the start of the school year after officials made cuts to its transportation budget, forcing longer bus rides and, in one case, leaving students sitting on the bus floor because of overcrowding.

The district, which is operating under a budget that is $2 million less than two years ago, cut two bus runs last summer in order to save $85,000. After the problems arose, the bus runs were reinstated.

Both cases show the impact of reduced state funding. Local governments and school boards have only so much to cut before students and taxpayers are affected. At the same time, it is difficult for residents to absorb additional property tax increases, leaving officials to perform a difficult balancing act.

THUMBS UP to Wednesday’s storm, which provided a blanket of fresh snow for Saturday’s Quarry Road Winter Carnival in Waterville.

Area public works crews may not have been happy, but the snow was welcome news to organizers of the carnival, which has been canceled the last two years because of poor conditions.

Meanwhile, the Quarry Road Recreational Area is having a great year, having almost hit its revenue goals for the fiscal year months early. The carnival is expected to draw as many as 1,500 people, many of whom will spend money elsewhere in the city.

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