NORRIDGEWOCK — Town officials don’t want to remove a woman from the board of selectmen who has been elected to serve. But they also don’t want her to serve if she legally is not able to.

Selectmen continued Monday to wrestle with a conflict concerning Charlotte Curtis, a former town treasurer who may still be responsible for collecting unpaid sewer bills even though she was elected to be a selectman March 5.

Town Manager Michelle Flewelling told the board last week that state law does not allow a person to serve in the capacity of both treasurer and selectman and that once a person has made a commitment to bring in the amount owed, “by law you are personally responsible for its collection.”

In an emergency meeting at the Town Office, selectmen voted 3-1 to hire Waterville attorney and part-time Colby College professor William Lee to look into the matter. Curtis has not yet been sworn in as selectman and sat in the audience, along with about seven other people.

Selectmen voted Wednesday to seek legal advice from the Maine Municipal Association, town attorney Phil Mohlar and former attorney general and Norridgewock resident Andrew Ketterer.

But board chairman Ron Frederick told selectmen that Mohlar and Ketterer declined to take on the issue, saying they thought it should be handled by someone without ties to the town.

Selectman Jim Hilton opposed hiring Lee. Selectmen Sallie Wilder, Matt Everett and Frederick voted in favor.

“I think the town needs to have legal counsel. We could be up for all kinds of lawsuits,” Wilder said.

“As selectmen, it’s our responsibility to protect the town’s interests,” Everett added.

Lee normally charges $220 per hour but offers a reduced rate of $190 per hour for municipalities, Frederick said. Any paralegal work would cost $85 per hour. Frederick said there was no estimate on how long the work would take.

As treasurer, Curtis did not record liens on some unpaid sewer accounts because she said she didn’t want people’s homes to be foreclosed on because of a sewer bill.

The approximately $10,000 in unpaid bills that are more than a year old are considered unfinished business with the town because she remains responsible for seeing that they are collected until selectmen can commit the duties to another treasurer.

Acting Treasurer Peter Lyman has said he will not take on the accounts that are more than a year old. After a year, the treasurer is legally no longer able to place a lien on them to force payment.

On Monday, Curtis said she is doing well, even though she can’t officially serve yet.

“I’m doing fine,” she said. “The people of this town support me 1,000 percent. It’s been wonderful. People that I don’t even know very well have been coming and saying, ‘They better not take my vote away.'”

After the meeting, Hilton’s wife, Elizabeth Hilton, argued that the town can still collect payment on all overdue accounts because, according to town policy, people’s payments are always applied to their oldest unpaid bills, even if they are paying a current one.

“The sewer bills are collectible through our collection process already in place,” she said. “It’s just costing the town money to hire an attorney.”

Flewelling said that while the practice has always been to apply payments to the oldest overdue accounts, nothing binds the town to do so. The policy Hilton referred to, dated Feb. 5, 1991, mentions taxes and refers to a state statute about property taxes but says nothing of sewer bills.

Even if the policy mentioned sewer bills, Flewelling said, there is no way to force someone to make a payment and the unpaid accounts have not been committed to anyone else, so Curtis is still technically responsible for them.

Elizabeth Hilton also said Curtis has done nothing wrong by not recording liens.

Flewelling agreed that there is nothing within town policy or state law that requires Curtis to record liens on overdue accounts, but not doing so sets a dangerous precedent and puts a burden on the people who do pay their sewer bills. The town’s sewer use charge ordinance states there “shall” be a lien, not that there must be one.

Resident Etta Tappan attended the meeting and said, “Our vote still isn’t counting. I guess I don’t understand why our vote is so fleeting.”

Flewelling said she recognizes that some people are frustrated with the situation, but “the big picture is we need to ensure that everything is done within the law and with the best interests of the town as a whole.”

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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