CHELSEA — Wiscasset selectmen last week voted not to pay their July school bill, but state officials say they can’t hold out.

Many Wiscasset residents want their town to withdraw from Chelsea-based Regional School Unit 12, and in June they rejected the school budget 198 to 135. But the other seven towns in the district all approved the budget and it passed 388 to 318.

Wiscasset is the most populous town in RSU 12 and has the largest share — $4.8 million — in the district’s $25.1 million budget.

The other RSU 12 towns are Alna, Chelsea, Palermo, Somerville, Westport Island and Windsor.

Wiscasset Selectman Ed Polewarczyk sees a conflict between the town’s obligations to the RSU and his duty to represent his constituents’ interests. He drew a comparison with the process for approving the municipal budget at town meeting.

“The voters themselves are the legislative body, and they make the decision on budget items,” he said. “I have not seen any objective evidence where the voters of Wiscasset have authorized me to raise and appropriate money for the RSU.”

At the Board of Selectmen meeting this week, Polewarczyk made a motion to remove from the treasurer’s July 19 warrant a payment of $400,415 to RSU 12, and selectmen voted 5-0 to approve the motion. They then approved payment for all the town’s other bills.

Wiscasset Town Manager Laurie Smith said Friday that she has asked the town attorney for an opinion on the matter, which will be addressed at the next meeting Aug. 2.

“My assumption is that, based on the statewide statues that surround RSUs and their legal setup, that they have the ability to bill us for that, much like a school administrative district before we had RSUs,” Smith said.

RSUs do have that ability, said David Connerty-Marin, spokesman for the Maine Department of Education. And selectmen have the authority to appropriate funds, in spite of the validation vote in their own town, if the budget receives approval overall.

“In fact, they are obligated to,” Connerty-Marin said.

The Maine Revised Statutes state that a municipal treasurer “shall pay” the amount assessed by the RSU in monthly installments by the 20th day of each month.

If an installment is not paid, interest begins to accrue 60 days after the due date, and the school treasurer may initiate action in Superior Court to collect payment. At least one town in the capital area is in a similar situation to Wiscasset’s. Monmouth was the only town in Regional School Unit 2 to reject the district budget, voting it down 369 to 286.

Voters in the other four towns — Dresden, Farmingdale, Hallowell and Richmond — propelled the budget to passage, with an overall vote of 581 to 526.

Monmouth made its July payment to RSU 2 as scheduled, Board of Selectmen Chair Pauline McDougald said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

[email protected]

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