To the editor:
This is an open letter to the Rockport Board of Selectmen.
As a former chairman of both the Board of Selectmen and the Finance Committee, it has been my honor to have served the Town of Rockport for 13 years. In recent days, both Jonathan Weaver and Peter Beacham have lauded your efforts to come to grips with the complex issues and decisions surrounding Long Beach.
You have identified two distinct phases to this effort. Phase I is to put forth to the land renters a short term new lease. Phase II is to gather, analyze and resolve all the many issue going forward having to do with what should happen in the long term.
The board has the sole authority to deal with Phase I per our by-laws. Phase II is another matter, as the final decision rests with the “inhabitants” or voters of Rockport. There will be much data from many sources to evaluate.
I agree with Selectwoman Wilkinson’s remark last Saturday when, to paraphrase, she said that past practice has worked fine for the past 110 years — except she did not state what that practice was. If you look at what has transpired over the past 20 years you get a picture of recent past practice.
As of Jan. 1, 1994, leases were executed with a term of five years; rents of $400.
As of Oct. 30, 1995, an addendum was executed to extend the term to 10 years (i.e. to Dec. 31, 2003), under two years into the five-year lease.
As of March 5, 2002, an addendum was executed to increase the annual rent to $1,500 for front row lots and $900 for back row lots, just over eight years into the modified 10-year lease.
As of Jan. 1, 2004, new leases were executed with a term of 10 years and annual rents were increased to $2,100 for front row lots and $1,300 for back row lots plus an escalator factor equal to the increase in the CPI index. Currently, rents are $2,500 and $1,500 respectively.
This past practice clearly documents that the town has used the contractual, unilateral and unrestricted leverage it has to amend leases in the recent past. It could easily do so again with a new lease.
Recently, I sent an email to the board suggesting that, if annual rents were to be raised to $5,000 for the 76 front row lots, $3,000 for the 59 second row lots and $2,000 for the 20 lots on the inland side of Old County Road (a new group), this would generate in excess of $600,000 in total rents, compared to the current, just over $300,000.
Retaining this unilateral and unrestricted provision to terminate (or amend) the leases, the town could execute the upcoming leases with any term up to the state-mandated maximum of 30 years and still amend them later with 90 days’ unilateral notice as it has done in the past. Obviously, the board can alter these suggested initial rent amounts as it sees fit.
The issues with the Ipswich “Little Neck” and Essex’s “Conomo Point” are similar as to some points, but entirely different as to other perhaps more compelling points. Surely elsewhere in the country there are other configurations similar to Rockport with our special needs. Hopefully your recent decision to bring in other appraisers will yield further relevant comparisons.
The parallel issue of what to do about the seawall is indeed mostly a separate issue, except that it could come back in if the town decides to retain ownership of Long Beach and recover the renters’ share of maintaining the wall through rents vs. townwide taxation or a combination.
The town needs and expects a thorough vetting and disclosure of all the pertinent facts including the use of truly comparable data for comparisons. Putting a short-term lease with clearly transitional rents in place will allow everyone to move forward to Phase II.
Two years is better, because it puts a higher sense of urgency on getting resolution. Compared to the total effort of Phase II, issuing another short term lease, if needed. should be trivial in comparison.
Nonetheless, given the town’s prerogatives, any lease is a 90-day short-term lease anyway. Even with a 10-year lease, it will undoubtedly require modification or replacement well before its term expires.
Getting a new lease in place ASAP (Phase I) is critical to clearing the way to Phase II and also gives the renters final notice of the terms of a new short-term lease.