, Gloucester, MA

August 20, 2013

Letter: Long Beach leases need full town's decision

Gloucester Daily Times

---- — To the editor:

Long Beach is not a subject for an elementary decision by five elected officials, none of whom could have personal experience dealing with such a major real estate transaction as the sale/rental of Long Beach property.

Yet the decision could be made as early as tonight at a regular meeting of the Rockport Board of Selectmen. An agenda item for the meeting calls for a discussion of “Long Beach facts and considerations.”

Long Beach is a large, natural asset belonging to the town of Rockport. It has been ever so, since 1904 and 1908. Town meetings for those years are cited as the possible authority for having committed the fate of Long Beach to the selectmen forever.

This information is contained in “Long Beach Rules & Regulations” available on the town website. The document was placed on record in August 2004. The online data mentions that a copy of the relevant lease is attached. It is not on the website.

I submit that Rockport was a far, far different place today than nearly 110 years ago. It was a town of blue-collar workers who came to maturity here. Considering the size and responsibilities represented by Long Beach, it isn’t surprising that townspeople would convey responsibilities to people known and trusted in a community not yet on the cusp of cultural and economic change.

Here, in 2013, the entire community can be expected to want to know all relevant detail associated with current negotiations or deliberations. But the meeting conducted, hosted by the Selectmen on Thursday, Aug. 15, cannot be the sole source of input to a final decision regarding this asset.

Initial notification of such a meeting was entered on the town website as a scheduled meeting, to held last Thursday, and did not spell out a meeting title or agenda. A later notice called out a “forum” to be “hosted” by the board for the purpose of discussing the fate of Long Beach. Then, a legal announcement in the Times seemed to turn the forum into a public hearing.

I did not attend the “forum / public hearing.” I had read and researched the recommended recipe for a successful lease arrangement, submitted to the board by the Long Beach Improvement Association on May 28. It’s a logical subject for discussion and consideration. And it should now be available for everyone in this town who has a vote.

The declaration contains a desire for a 30-year lease, and on the face of it, it’s a stupefying request.

Every Annual Report for the past 10 years contain all sorts of phrases concerning the local economy — “money is tight,” we must have a zero budget, the school system will require significant reductions, no one in Town Hall will receive a raise etc. Yet we continued to borrow huge amounts of cash based on the context that interest rates were low, bond ratings were excellent, and overrides and debt exclusions were approved.

Just these past two years, a constant refrain from different town sources, including the Finance Committee, was, “we need another stream of revenue.” And every town report for each of those 10 years reflected a yearly deposit to the general fund of about $300,000 lease money from Long Beach.

The account summary from 2007 refers to a “Long Beach Betterment” entry of $613,941 with no indication of where it came from or where it went. Also, for 2007, an amount of $1.4 million was posted as “sewer debt” for Long Beach. Yet what might have been a new revenue stream was entered into the general fund, without consideration of funds that might be required for Long Beach.

As a town, we live above our means. We will have to deal with the seawall on the beach regardless of lease or sale, and, in the offing, will be the resolution of Flat Ledge Dam, and the town will also be called upon to fund stages of reclamation/improvements to the Mill Stone Park area.

In the meantime, the town sees no enthusiastic increase to its population from new families with kids. And if it did, even a modest grocery store convenience is still missing — with none in view.

Five elected people attend a board meeting every other Tuesday. The meetings are prepared with an agenda scheduling an adjournment time of 9 p.m. The officials make motions from paperwork scripted in advance; debate is nonexistent.

A decision on what to do about Long Beach demands additional public hearings, announced with proper documentation. This process should result in open debate at Town Meeting and a possible referendum; even a non-binding referendum would be acceptable as opposed to a serious case of the blind leading blind. Note that tonight’s meeting allows 20 minutes for Long Beach facts/consideration.

I didn’t attend the recent Long Beach Forum/Public Hearing. That its attendance would consist essentially of Long Beach residents was a given. The board cannot and should not render a decision on just this one process. Let’s see the proposed lease work, and let reasonable people make an educated decision concerning what is acceptable.

A scripted lease by Kopelman and Paige should not obligate this town to a 30-year lease hold for 154 prime real estate lots. If I was discussing a subject visible to tourists, I would not have to generate this discussion.