APPLETON — State law requires every town to have a fireproof place to keep its most important records. Appleton does not know if it is breaking that law or not.

The issue arose at the Sept. 20 meeting of the Select Board but prompted little discussion except from Chair Lorie Costigan.

She handed each member a copy of the relevant part of state law governing Administrative Procedures and Services, along with undated written comments listed under a heading labeled: “Secretary of State.”

The four pages appear to spell out clearly what is required. Among the Secretary of State’s comments are the why behind it all.

“Recent fires in several towns provide a reminder about the perils of not protecting critical records.”

The Secretary of State goes on to cite the applicable law.

But as Costigan pointed out, there is a wrinkle in Appleton’s fireproof storage system that raises a question.

After distributing the paperwork, she told colleagues Marci Moody Blakely, Charles Garrigan, Scott Esancy and Vice Chair Peter Beckett, “You have the statutes relative to municipal record keeping. Right now, we have a semi-fireproof safe in the basement of the fire department.”

She continued that “at some point” in the past, a plexiglass window was installed in the door of the safe that “hampers the effectiveness of the door.”

It seems the town is uncertain about whether the addition of plexiglass has rendered the safe out of compliance with the state statues — in other words, an illegal safe that is not fireproof but houses the town’s most important records.

Costigan asked rhetorically whether the safe is “grandfathered?”

That is a legal notion that refers to instances when something already in place is exempted from a new law.

“It’s a question that needs to be answered,” she told colleagues. There was no response and that was the end of the discussion.

A town committee recently recommended that part of Appleton’s share of federal Covid-related American Rescue Plan Act funding be used to build a fireproof area in the town office.

That recommendation has not been acted on. Costigan and Esancy were the Select Board representatives on the committee, which has since disbanded.

Left unsaid and unanswered at the Sept. 20 meeting was, if the town safe is not up to required standards, is Appleton violating state law? And, if so, how long has that gone on, and who is responsible?

“Whoever violates any provision of these rules shall be guilty of a Class E crime,” according to the written materials Costigan handed out from the Secretary of State under the heading, “Rules for Disposition of Local Government Records.”

In Maine, a Class E crime is “punishable by up to six months incarceration and a $1,000 fine,” according to the state website,

Costigan responded to a request for comment, saying, “A copy of the pertinent statute was supplied for a simple educational opportunity. The town’s vault is in the fire station; the town has existing safes and fireproof cabinets. More will be needed and understanding the pertinent statute helps the board’s decision-making process as it contemplates potential expenditures.”

The relevant law about fireproof record keeping is contained in the state code’s Title 5, Chapter 6.

Paragraph 95-B, Section 2, reads, “Each local government shall provide a fireproof safe or vault for the preservation of all records that must be retained permanently but are not required for business purposes. The official having responsibility for those records shall deposit them in the safe or vault where those records must be kept except when required for use.”

The statutes go on to say that the safe or vault “should be planned and its construction supervised by a registered engineer or architect.”

And they detail how it is to be built as follows: “Its walls may only be pierced for necessary services, and should not be open to any type of shaft. Floor and roof may not be pierced. All walls, floor and door should at a minimum meet four-hour fire resistance standards per a nationally recognized standards organization. The vault door may not be a standard ‘fire door’ or other design not specifically intended for vault use …no combustible materials many be used in the vault’s construction.”

Is plexiglass fireproof or is it combustible? Here is what the website has to say:

“Plexiglass is a strong sheet of plastic (that is) not at all fireproof. They do not resist heat and therefore cannot be used as heat precaution substances.”