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September 12, 2013

Editorial: Questions and new lease talks

On one level, Rockport resident and longtime town activist Toby Arsenian may have gone 0-for-3 on the nonbinding questions he brought to the floor regarding Long Beach at the tail end of Fall Town Meeting Monday night.

And, yes, those voters still in attendance said “no” to all three of Arsenian’s queries — which asked whether they should commit to covering the entire cost of repairing the Long Beach seawall, whether it should pick up half the cost with the other half drawn from rents paid by the Long Beach tenants, or whether it should cover just 5 percent of the cost, with the rest coming entirely from the rent fees paid by Long Beach residents on the town-owned property.

Yet, if Arsenian’s goal was largely to spur new talks and community discussion about the leases and the town’s course of action, his effort was a rousing success.

For the debate indeed sparked new concerns over the idea of committing to extending long-term leases. And it drew former selectman Wendell “Sandy” Jacques to rightfully point out that the town is not facing any Oct. 1 deadline to commit to leases before their Dec. 31 expiration date, as town officials had previously noted. That deadline applies only if a super-majority of selectmen — four of five — were to seek to cut off the leases prior to that date, and no one’s even remotely talking about that.

In short, Arsenian’s proposals sparked the kind of discussion that town officials still need to hear — and Erin Battistelli, who chairs the Board of Selectmen, has committed to having precisely that.

But questions raised during that discussion suggest that, indeed, short-term “bridge” leases should indeed be back on the proverbial table while the town carries out more extensive studies regarding town revenue needs and its options.

Yes, Arsenian’s actual questions may have gone 0-for-3, but when it came to sparking needed debate, he hit a home run.

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