SKOWHEGAN — The clock was reset Tuesday night on what to with the question of changing a small side street near downtown Skowhegan from a private road to a public way so it can legally be plowed and maintained this winter.

Selectmen gave themselves three weeks to come up with an answer.

Debate over Moody Street, began in December. The street, with just a handful of homes, fell through the cracks when the last six private streets to become town-accepted roads were taken over at Town Meeting in 2010. The short, dog-leg street with three houses on it behind the Skowhegan-Madison Elks Lodge is technically not a town street like all the others in Skowhegan. It’s a private road, but it’s been plowed by the town for decades.

Therein lies the problem.

Skowhegan selectmen agreed 5-0 Tuesday night to send registered letters to three property owners in the area and to get a cost estimate on a survey to see what the results of making Moody Street a town way would mean to residents and abutters. Selectmen gave themselves until their next regular meeting in three weeks to get the answers they need. In the meantime, the town will continue “in good faith” to plow the street.

A legal opinion from the town attorney said it is against the Maine Constitution for a municipality to spend taxpayer money maintaining or cleaning up private property, which board Chairman Don Skillings said made him uncomfortable.

The other question raised Tuesday night was about whether it is reasonable or even legal to stop a service such as snow plowing in an area that has been served for decades without first taking the question to residents at a town meeting. Is there middle ground?

Another question was what would happen if there was a medical or fire emergency on Moody Street if the road is not plowed. Those questions are expected to be answered at the next meeting, on Feb. 14.

There also are five property owners on Hanover Street whose backyards abut Moody Street. Their concerns over easements and road dimensions need to be met, too, town officials agreed.

The town continues to plow the street, but in order for it to become a town street, a survey has to be done on the properties to see where Moody Street ends and the abutters’ properties begin.

A road is considered a town road once it has been accepted by a vote of residents at Town Meeting in June.

“We’re still plowing it like we always have,” Skowhegan Road Commissioner Greg Dore said before the selectmen’s meeting Tuesday. “We haven’t stopped. It’s a difficult situation to be in.”

Discussion began in early December when residents Charles and Helene Bolstridge, both 78, asked the Board of Selectmen to make it a legal street. They’ve lived there since the mid-1980s, they said, and are afraid town snowplows will stop coming.

A legal opinion advising the town not to continuing maintaining and plowing the street followed, but the town continues to plow it.

“They’re been plowing for 20 years. How can they stop?” Charles Bolstridge said in December. “I’ve wanted it to be taken over as a street, and they started right in bullying me.

“I’m not going to be bullied anymore. That’s why I went to the selectmen. I still maintain that if the town’s been doing it for so long, they cannot stop legally.”

The Bolstridges said they pay property taxes on their modest home on Moody Street and deserve some action, but it’s not going to be that simple. Selectmen agreed at their Dec. 13 meeting to pursue the idea of making Moody Street a town road and do the research needed to make that happen.

Skowhegan Town Manager Christine Almand sent out letters to the five abutters on Hanover Street, to one on Smith Street and to the Skowhegan-Madison Elks lodge. Only the Elks and one landowner replied.

Skip Hodgdon, chairman of the Elks lodge board of trustees, said in a letter that his board “has no interest” in seeing the section of Moody Street that crosses their property becoming a town-accepted road. They are not in favor of giving up any of their parking lot behind the lodge, which is on Silver Street.

Almand said she will send out the registered letters and get estimates on the cost of the surveys, which will include a total of eight pieces of property. In the meantime, Moody Street will be plowed just as all the other streets in Skowhegan are.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

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Twitter:@Doug_Harlow