GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

September 26, 2013

Editorial: Long Beach lease vote a betrayal of town taxpayers


Gloucester Daily Times

---- — So, let’s get this straight.

A majority of Rockport’s selectmen still don’t know how high they’ll jack up rents for Long Beach tenants, so they can’t know how much revenue they’ll generate for the town.

Yet the same three selectmen – Erin Battistelli, who chairs the board, Sarah Wilkinson and Eliza Lucas — don’t see any need to wait for any independent appraisals, as urged by both the town’s own Finance Committee. And they see no need to hold off to see results from an environmental sediment study regarding the beach itself, as sought by Jim Gardner, who chairs the Department of Public Works Commissioners.

Indeed, it seems they only knew one thing Tuesday night. Despite a sweeping range of questions —from untold town revenues being left on the table, to the tenants raking in thousands of dollars through shaky legal subletting — Wilkinson, Battistelli and Lucas were willing and able to win a 3-2 vote to commit the town and its taxpayers to extending leases on the 154 Long Beach properties for another 10 years.

Yikes!

While they mercifully stopped far short of offering the potential 30-year leases some Long Beach tenants sought for mortgaging reasons, the three selectmen have seemingly locked taxpayers into what seems an inevitably bad deal.

Ideally, of course, the selectmen would have extended the expiring leases for a year or two, as Selectmen Paul Murphy and Wilhelmina Sheedy-Moores futilely suggested, and as called for by the Finance Committee. That would have opened the door to more thorough financial figures, desperately needed informed discussion, and perhaps even a town-wide referendum on whether to sell the town-owned land to a private management firm, and take Rockport out of the dangerous liability role of landlord.

But no. Instead, Wilkinson, Lucas and Battistelli decided that such long-term town financial choices weren’t necessary, that more appraisal information wasn’t needed, and that a 10-year lease works fine — just like the current one that, according to Finance Committee figures, has charged rents at now roughly 1.5 percent of fair market value.

They decided, in other words, to ignore the input of the Finance Committee, the head of their own DPW commissioners, and a growing number of residents.

That’s a step that taxpayers and town voters should not accept — and should not soon forget.