The four China selectmen at a Dec. 5 special meeting voted unanimously not to appeal a legal decision involving a property on Three Mile Pond.
Town office staff foreclosed on the property because of unpaid 2015 taxes. Owner Stacey O’Connor filed suit claiming she was not properly notified of the impending foreclosure. Kennebec County Superior Court Justice William Stokes upheld her position.
Town Manager Dennis Heath explained to selectmen that initial notices went to an address in Maine. After O’Connor notified the town that she now lives in Arizona, a subsequent notice was sent by certified mail to her Arizona address and was returned unclaimed. Office staff therefore used the Maine address for the final notice; it too was returned to the town.
Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood testified at an earlier hearing that she also sent two notices to the Arizona address by regular mail. Neither was returned to the town. In her experience, Hapgood said, people are more likely to pick up regular mail for which they do not have to sign.
Justice Stokes, citing Maine Law Court decisions, ruled that the town should have used certified mail sent to the Arizona address, even though it appeared not to have worked, in order to satisfy legal requirements for foreclosure with the strictness required by law.
Town office staff acted in good faith, Stokes wrote. But state statute requires strict compliance, and strict compliance meant sending a notice to the last known address – Arizona – by certified mail. He therefore voided the foreclosure.
Heath said the law does not require proof that a notice was received, but merely evidence that it was sent in proper form. Henceforth, he said, town office staff will follow the form.
The manager said O’Connor will be given 30 days to redeem the property by paying 2015 taxes and charges.
Selectman Ronald Breton interrupted discussion of the O’Connor case to ask whether it was proper for board Chairman Robert MacFarland, who was absent, to have appointed Jeffrey LaVerdiere acting chairman. The board responded by electing LaVerdiere chairman for the meeting.
Since then Breton has proposed creating a selectmen’s ordinance that would cover issues like choice of a temporary chairman. Board members voted unanimously after the November election that Robert’s Rules of Order will govern their proceedings.
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