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Lincoln Maritime Center lease dispute to be article for Hingham Town Meeting warrant

Posted by Jessica Bartlett  March 12, 2012 04:48 PM

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Lincoln Maritime School supporters are objecting to a $12,000-a-year lease of Barns and Steamboat Wharf just three months after an agreement was signed between the school and the town.

For over 40 years, the non-profit Maritime Center has leased the two wharfs for a nominal fee of $1 a year, giving them nonexclusive use of the town property to operate their sailing and rowing programs.

In 2010, the town decided the Maritime Center should have to pay for use of the property. Although the non-profit initially rejected the idea, by December 2011, both parties had come together to negotiate a settlement.

The current lease is for $12,000 for this year, with prior lease notification for renewal to be requested before Dec. 31. A longer lease was initially discussed, but both sides wanted to adjust to the new economic model before committing to anything long-term.

The issue was seemingly resolved until Thursday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, when over two dozen supporters of the Maritime Center came out to support an article for the Town Meeting warrant to revert to the old ways.

“They are claiming that the lease they signed would be to the detriment to the Lincoln Maritime, it would break them. Our assessment is they would have to raise rates five percent to compensate us for the $12,000,” selectman Bruce Rabuffo said.

According to Rabuffo, although the article has to be put on the Town Meeting warrant because more than 10 people signed the petition, the item as a whole will be non-actionable.

“I did check with the state, the procurement rules supersede town meeting. … we had researched it and said we can’t do what your article wants us to do. Town meeting cannot direct me to give it to an organization. It’s illegal. I have to put it out to bid, or I have to negotiate the rate,” Rabuffo said.

According to Mike Cataldo, the person behind the petition, even if the article is non-actionable, the support for Lincoln Maritime and the hope to abolish the lease payment are not going away.

"We’re here to build support and send a stronger and louder message to selectmen. I hope they see the support and say you are right, lets preserve this wharf," Cataldo said.

Cataldo said the town shouldn't just be looking at ways to earn more money, but should see how Lincoln Maritime is saving the town money, both with its contributions to high school rowing and sailing programs, and with its low cost option for the community as a whole.

With this lease, the Maritime Center won't be able to sustain themselves and public access to the waterfront would be lost.

"Hingham is a waterfront community, and there is almost no where, in fact this is the only place in town where the community has access without going to a private marina or yacht club. As the sponsoring person for the article…its important that we don’t let the selectmen close out that access point by worrying solely about money. Sometimes you have to think about the community as well," Cataldo said.

Although the petition was not pushed by school officials, Lincoln Maritime President Sturtevant English, Jr. agreed with the mentality behind the proposal and signed the petition.

“Lincoln is concerned as a charitable organization that it makes it exceedingly difficult for us to maintain our operations. As we look at the numbers, it’s in effect unsustainable to pay rent to the town. We would prefer to have the rent returned to what has been past practice of a nominal dollar a year. It doesn’t take a genius to see that free is better than expensive, but as a charity, we try and do a pretty good job of utilizing that wharf in the community’s best interest,” English said.

According to English, the maritime center raised rates a little less than 10 percent this season to compensate for the new fee.

Now, classes will cost $20 more per child per session.

Registration opened in the beginning of March, so there hasn’t been much feedback about the change.

Regardless of the renewed conflict, Rabuffo said he maintains his initial position.

“I felt it was resolved … We think [the center does] good work. We like what [they] do, the service, but we have to charge [them] for it,” Rabuffo said. “People who don’t use it shouldn’t have to pay for it.”

There wasn't yet a decision on whether or not the item would be up for discussion at Town Meeting. The Advisory Committee will be looking at the article during their meeting on Monday, March 12.

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