Should the town of Rockport offer potential 30-year leases to the tenants of the town-owned properties at Long Beach?
Should the town offer the properties for market-price sale? Or should it follow another course — perhaps offering shorter lease options, or, yes, selling the entire set of properties to a single owner who could then operate and/or manage the properties privately, taking the town out of its often-shaky role as landlord?
Those are all questions that still are – or at least should be — facing Rockport’s selectmen when they gather tonight to continue discussions of perhaps the town’s thorniest current issue. And it comes after the selectmen hosted a public forum that drew several Long Beach tenants and a smattering of other folks last week.
But when it comes to considering any decisions regarding the future of the Long Beach properties and the current 10-year leases, which are all due to expire in December, the selectmen should recognize that a decision of this magnitude should not be theirs alone to make. It is a choice that should not only be forwarded to next month’s Fall Town Meeting, but to a town-wide, all-day referendum vote that will indeed seek and have the chance to draw the greatest level of input from as many Rockport residents as possible.
The stakes have the potential of reeling in revenues that could not only go a long way toward repairing the seawall that protects all of these properties and seasonal homes, but secure a better revenue stream to carry town services well into the future. And it looms as the kind of landmark decision in which every eligible voters should have a hand.
There are arguments to be made for all sides. Richard Carbone of the Long Beach Improvement Association makes a case for 30-year leases when he notes that tenants would have a far better chance of securing mortgage-style financing.
But is that the best course for the town? And shouldn’t all town voters and taxpayers have the chance to render such a decision — with choices including the sale of all of the properties to an outside property management firm, a choice seemingly ruled out at the selectmen’s forum last week?
Too often these days, cities and towns seem to fear rather than embrace public input. That’s especially the case in Gloucester, where an agenda-driven School Committee seems hell-bent on pushing construction of a new elementary school that will serve just one of the city’s five school districts while avoiding a city-wide referendum like a plague.
Calling for a Long Beach lease referendum would not be a case of the selectmen passing the buck. It would be letting voters make their own big-bucks choice on an issue for which all deserve a voice.