NORRIDGEWOCK — There is a way that recently elected selectman Charlotte Curtis can resolve unfinished business left over from her former position as treasurer and take her seat on the board.

The solution requires the town to adopt a new policy, complete an audit and accept a final certificate of settlement with Curtis, who was elected March 5 but has not been able to serve because of lingering matters from when she was town treasurer.

Wednesday night, selectmen and about 15 residents listened as attorney Bryan Ward detailed what he called “a pragmatic, efficient solution that works within the bounds of the law” to allow the town to clear the way for Curtis to be sworn in as selectman.

Selectmen unanimously voted to draft a new sewer bill payment policy, hire an auditor and, if both the policy and audit are in order, develop a written settlement with Curtis.

Because of her former treasurer position, Curtis continues to remain responsible for collecting money owed on residents’ unpaid sewer bills. Maine law states treasurers can’t simultaneously serve as municipal officers and orders them to make a final settlement with the town before serving in the role.

There is no case law explaining the statute, however.

“There is some uncertainty as to exactly what this statutory language requires. This statute has been in substantially the same form for over 100 years, and there is no legislative history explaining it, nor any case law interpreting it,” attorney William A. Lee wrote to the town recently.

Despite the lack of a precedent, Lee and Ward recommended a three-step process to resolve the matter:

* the town adopts a policy that requires any person’s sewer bill payment to be applied to the oldest overdue account first;

* the town conducts an audit of the treasurer’s financial affairs;

* after adopting the policy and completing an audit that shows the treasurer’s finances to be in order, the selectmen sign a final settlement with Curtis, so she can assume the position of selectman.

It is clear that Curtis cannot serve as selectman until she makes a final settlement with the town, Lee wrote.

What is preventing selectmen from accepting the final agreement immediately, however, is the fact that they have no one to whom they can commit the year-old unpaid sewer accounts. No one else will take them because there is no legal way to guarantee they are paid.

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. After a year, the treasurer is legally no longer able to place a lien on the accounts to force payment.

Under the new town policy still to be drafted, any resident making a payment on a 2012 sewer bill, but who has older unpaid sewer bills, would have their 2012 payment applied to the oldest outstanding account.

While the town treasurer legally cannot place a lien on any account more than a year old, he can place one on the most recent unpaid accounts. Under the new policy then, if people do pay, the money would offset the oldest account. If people don’t pay, the foreclosure process would begin, and the town could ultimately collect payment that way.

“It would allow the new treasurer to collect the back debt,” Ward said.

Selectman Matt Everett said, “I think that leaves (Curtis) protected and us.”

Lee recommended that both sewer commissioners and selectmen adopt the policy and that it be re-adopted each year.

In terms of completing an audit, Lee wrote that “selectmen have a statutory and fiduciary duty to make sure the town’s finances are in order. While it may take a few weeks to have that audit completed, how can the Town have a settlement without one?”

Lee wrote that some people have questioned whether it is constitutional to restrict Curtis from serving as selectman.

“While it would take a court decision to be certain, I expect it likely the statute would be found constitutional. The treasurer of a town is responsible for the receipt, safekeeping and disbursement of the town’s money. It is quite reasonable to require an accounting of these extremely important responsibilities before the person becomes a selectman,” he wrote.

Resident Diane Gogan said after the meeting that she was pleased with the solution.

“I think they’re on the right track,” she said.

Curtis was unable to attend the meeting.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]


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