Town Manager Scott Tilton speaks during an April 23 meeting of the Chelsea Selectboard via Zoom, an online meeting platform. Kennebec Journal image by Sam Shepherd

CHELSEA — Town officials are expected to mull over a plan to reopen the town office to the public next month, which could include the installation of a barrier at the front counter.

Earlier this month, Gov. Janet Mills extended the state of emergency related to the coronavirus until May 15. On Tuesday, the Maine Center for Disease Control reported there are 1,040 confirmed cases in the state, with 51 total deaths.

On April 23, the Chelsea Selectboard met via Zoom to discuss reopening the town office. Town officials instructed Town Manager Scott Tilton to prepare a reopening plan for the town office before their next scheduled meeting on May 14.

Selectman Mike Pushard floated the idea of placing a barrier between town staff and customers at the town office, estimating the cost would be about $400. He said the barrier, which he first saw at Soule’s Auto Supply on River Road, would be helpful during the coronavirus pandemic and for angry customers.

“When I first went in (to Soule’s) a few weeks ago … I laughed about thinking it was over the top,” Pushard said. “Whether we open or not, I think that little barrier is great for our front counter.”

“It got to the point where you, Scott (Tilton), started carrying (a gun),” he added. “It could be enough to get somebody out of there to a safe place.”

Asked Tuesday to clarify why Tilton carried a gun in the office, Pushard said a citizen threatened to return to the town office with a gun after being dissatisfied with service. Pushard said it was Tilton’s right to carry a weapon, especially after the “pretty good threat” made against the office.

“A couple of people have gotten upset and have made remarks and it really frightened the girls in the office and Scott was concerned about it and he started carrying a sidearm because of it,” Pushard said, adding that he had not seen Tilton with the sidearm lately.

Tilton did not respond to requests for comment on Tuesday.

Tilton said during the meeting that one resident was trying to pay taxes and complained about the office not being open to the public. He said the complaint was resolved by using a dropbox to accept the payment.

Selectman Benjamin Smith was skeptical about reopening the town office under pressure to reopen the state’s economy without listening to the advice of scientists.

“If you try to reopen you’re going to increase the transmission rates again,” he said. “That’s what all the scientists are saying.”

Selectboard Chairperson Deb Sanderson interjected, saying that not all scientists support closing down all community institutions, cueing a short exchange between the two.

“There are many across the medical community who are saying that this is … more far-spread than what people imagine,” Sanderson said. “Yes, scientists are saying it’s getting worse, other scientists in other communities are saying keeping everything closed is not going to make a difference in the long run.”

“OK, well, I don’t watch Fox News,” Smith responded.

“This is not Fox News. I’m sorry, this is not from Fox News,” Sanderson returned. “That was uncalled for.”

Pushard said some possible facets of the plan could be separating clean and used pens, only allowing people wearing masks into the office or allowing one person inside the office at a time. He said the office may not open right away, but the town should have a plan in place before it does.

“We owe to residents to have a plan so that when we do decide and give a date to open up, we’re going to have solid (information),” he said. “We’ve all seen what stores are doing to protect everybody and that’s the discussion I want.”

Sanderson said having that plan in place before the state of emergency expires on May 15 would also help the town office to “get up and running as soon as possible.”

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