For the second time this year, Wilton will take a property owner to court in an attempt to enforce the town’s year-old property maintenance ordinance.

After a contentious meeting last week, selectmen agreed to ask a judge to order Charles and Margaret Proffitt, who live at 935 Main St., in East Dixfield, a village of Wilton, to clean up their yard.

Selectmen also approved hiring a contractor to clean up the yard of Adams Street homeowner Duane Pollis, who is to be billed a court-ordered $2,500. The property maintenance ordinance, narrowly approved in 2013 at the annual Town Meeting, requires a minimum level of property upkeep that includes yards be free of trash and debris and structures be in “good repair.” Proponents argued the ordinance was necessary to maintain property values, promote safety and improve municipal tourist appeal, while those opposed said the ordinance gives the town unfair control over private property and places a burden on the town’s poor residents.

The Proffitts and the selectmen reviewed photos of the couple’s property before selectmen agreed to take the civil court action.

Charles Proffitt, at the meeting, said he is poor and disabled and trying to clean the property the best he can. He told the town that “unless they have a warrant in hand” he did not want anyone else from the town on his property.

The conversation turned multiple times into profanity-laced accusations aimed at both the selectboard and state officials, with Proffitt several times alleging that the state told him he could not plant a garden in part of his backyard because it was protected wetlands.

” ‘The man’ is not going to tell me what to plant to eat,” Proffitt said.

“We’ll just take you to court. It’s not a problem,” said Selectman Tom Saviello, noting the town won its case in Franklin County Superior Court against Pollis last year and was awarded $9,500 in fines.

The couple eventually left, with Proffitt grumbling to himself “so this is how you treat your veterans.”

On Thursday, Town Manager Rhonda Irish said the two cases in which the town sought legal action were instances when the debris on the property was a health and safety hazard, not just an eyesore.

In July, Pollis almost avoided a cleanup crew hired by the town from taking over. Selectmen noted that he had made some progress cleaning his property and sent him a letter encouraging him to continue the progress. Irish, however, said Pollis has since backslid and the town will seek contractor to clean the property.

Irish said the $2,500 bill for the contractor will be sent to Pollis as supplemental tax bill. A lien has been placed on his property for the $9,500 he was fined.

The town has sent four letters to the Proffitts, but the property has not been cleaned up. Irish, however, said there is still a chance for a peaceful resolution.

“Maybe they’ll have some neighbors who will come help,” she said.

Irish said there is about $400 in the budget for the Community Support Program, which operates under the downtown committee and has so far cleaned up one property and painted another.

Wilton’s downtown committee chairman Jeff Chaisson said the program was formed when the property maintenance ordinance went into effect to help people who needed assistance fixing up their property. He said the program hopes to respond to concerns about whether someone might not have the money to comply with the ordinance or might have a physical disability that keeps them from clearing their yard.

“We wanted to provide some options,” he said.

He said the program is small — they’ve so far helped paint a business and clean debris from a yard — but he would like to see it grow to have more volunteers. Currently, he said the group’s primary option is to use its limited money to pay someone to paint or clean at a cheap rate.

“We’d like it to be more community based with volunteers,” he said. “We’d like to see participation grow more on both sides and build some more trust with the town government.”

In neighboring Farmington, Code Enforcement Officer Steve Kaiser said while his town does not have a property maintenance ordinance like Wilton, it has mandatory recycling and solid waste ordinances that require residents to throw away their trash and not pile it up.

The majority of the time, Kaiser said he sends homeowners in violation a letter asking if they are aware of the ordinances and the homeowner responds by getting into compliance. However, he said there are always cases where homeowners disagree with the town and the complaints.

“It’s like the old saying goes, one man’s junk is another man’s treasure,” said Kaiser. “Perception really varies among people, that’s why you need well-written ordinances.”

Eric Conrad, director of communication for the Maine Municipal Association, said MMA’s attorneys looked over the Wilton ordinance and said it was well written, but Wilton’s ordinance is “unusual in the sense that it’s a rural town” compared to towns and cities with ordinances tied to historic districts that have upkeep rules.

“There are tons of historic towns and cities in Maine where you can’t just do what you want to do in the middle of the downtown,” he said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

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