CHELSEA — Any Chelsea resident who wants to contest a property assessment to the town’s Board of Assessment Review is going to be out of luck.

Because no one ran in the June election for any of the three seats on that board, it doesn’t have enough members to take action on anything.

And while the Board of Selectmen has the option to appoint residents to fill those seats and 15 other vacancies including one on the Sheepscot Valley Regional School Unit 12 district, no one has indicated any interest in helping to make decisions to guide the town’s future.

It’s a matter of some frustration, because it’s a chronic problem.

In 2016, nomination papers were filed for one of 20 open seats. This year, papers were filed for one of 24 open seats. In both cases, the candidates were selectmen Michael Pushard and Benjamin Smith, respectively, running for re-election.

Here’s the rundown on the open seats:

• 1 seat RSU 12 School Board

• 4 open seats of 5 on the Board of Appeals

• 6 open seats of 7 on the Budget Committee

• 3 open seats of 5 on the Board of Assessment Review

• 3 open seats of 7 on the Planning Board

• 1 open seat of 5 on the Cemetery Committee

Town Manager Scott Tilton said while the Planning Board has enough members to meet the quorum required to take action on the matters that come before it, any absence means the board can’t decide anything. In the next year, he said, the board is expected to take on a review of town ordinances and that will be a commitment of time.

Rick Danforth, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, said the lack of participation by Chelsea residents extends to attending meetings and the annual Town Meeting, where out of a population of nearly 3,000, only perhaps 30 people attend. He expects that might change in the fall after property tax bills go out, which are expected to contain an increase.

“I can guarantee you we’ll have a full house at meetings in October,” he said.

While the calculations are not yet complete, Danforth said the increase will be in the neighborhood of 1.5 mills, bringing the tax rate to $19.50 per $1,000 of assessed valuation.

“Nobody showed up to talk about the school district budget,” he said, when the school board held its vote on spending.

That’s the pattern he’s noted in Chelsea: people show up to complain, but they don’t want to take part in the process before decisions are made.

In this year’s annual report, Danforth included information on a proposal to build a new Town Office in the next few years as well as renderings of several options developed by students at the University of Maine at Augusta’s architecture program.

The project represents a large investment, but Danforth said the proposal has drawn no comment or interest.

“Now we have the Economic Development (tax increment financing district) and we’re trying to do good things, positive things,” Danforth said. The district, put in place after natural gas pipelines were routed through Chelsea, created a funding stream to support economic development, among other things.

“There’s a chance we would put something in place that half the town doesn’t like, but what are we supposed to do?” Danforth said.

The only consistent way to get people to show up is controversy, Danforth said.

One of the town’s biggest controversies recently was the conviction of Carole Swan, former selectwoman, on three counts of extortion in 2014, for using her position as a selectwoman to seek kickbacks from Frank Monroe, who held the contract to plow and sand Chelsea’s roads. Swan was convicted earlier that year of two counts of workers’ compensation fraud and five counts of income tax fraud. She’s still serving her sentence.

Tilton said the town’s charter might be partly to be blame for the lack of candidates. A charter defines the governmental structure of a municipality and the distribution of power.

Chelsea’s charter was adopted at the 2013 Town Meeting, following a public process and it went into effect on July 1 that year. Among its provisions is the requirement that write-in candidates earn at least 25 votes to be elected, which is a relatively high bar to reach.

Before appointing anyone interested in filling one of the town’s vacant elected seats, Danforth said he wants to find out why the candidate couldn’t file nomination papers and run.

If it’s a matter of changing work circumstances, that’s one thing, he said. But if they simply didn’t want to take the time to take out papers and collect the necessary signatures that’s another.

“I am putting my radar up,” Danforth said.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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