Hingham selectmen approved the lease of the Barnes and Steamboat wharves to the Lincoln Maritime Center for $12,000 this calendar year, a contentious decision that has taken over a year of negotiation to work out.
For the past 40 years, the non-profit Maritime Center has leased the two wharves for a nominal fee of $1 a year, giving the center nonexclusive use of the town property to operate its sailing and rowing programs.
Yet when selectmen approached the center about paying for that access last year, the center rejected the idea. Dozens of people came out to support the center, and discussions with the town soon fell by the wayside.
In August, both parties came to the table again to negotiate a lease, as the current one is set to expire by the end of December. Since then, selectmen and the president of Lincoln Maritime Center, Sturtevant English Jr., have talked behind closed doors to reach the current arrangement.
According to Town Administrator Ted Alexiades, the proposal is for a term of $12,000 per calendar year beginning Jan. 1, 2012, with notification for renewal to be requested before Dec. 31.
“We talked about a longer lease, but because this it the first year we were implementing a charge, we wanted to give Lincoln time to adjust their economic model for a lease payment and see what that effect would be, to return to future years and discuss that data,” Alexiades told selectmen Tuesday.
It’s a means to ease the Maritime Center into a more stringent economic model, one that requires the entity to pay the town as well as raise its own rates.
Yet with the newly negotiated lease, along with a compromise of not having to pay docking fees for the previous two years, costs are not as high as originally anticipated.
In 2010, the center owned 14 floats, paying approximately $5,800.
With the donation of two more floats by the Bare Cove Marina in 2011, and thus 2000 square feet of dock, the dock fees were expected to increase to $8,900.
The center will not be required to pay that amount this time around.
Overall, English said he was satisfied with the arrangement.
“We provide a public service and that’s the end goal…many of our wishes have been accommodated, and we’re grateful selectmen have met us half way on many of these items,” he said.
Although selectmen felt that this agreement was heading in the right direction, one audience member spoke out against the dock fee leniency.
“We have a bylaw, but Lincoln Maritime isn’t going to pay this [dock] fee…they feel as though they can’t afford to pay it,” said Hingham resident John Hersey. “In the case a business can’t afford to pay, they raise their rates - why can’t they raise their rates to pay this? If they aren’t going to pay it…then why don’t we let everyone else have a free ride also? I don’t think it’s fair.”
Despite the tensions, Selectman Bruce Rabuffo said that getting the lease payment in and of itself was a success, especially as the town wasn’t seeing any money from the organization for 40 years.
“We recognized that it was required of us to work with an organization that has provided a very good service to this town,” Rabuffo said. “The numbers we were talking about were onerous. We expressed the idea that we were going to get there, but they have to support the business in a reasonable manner.”
Furthermore, the center is providing services to 10 percent of the town’s population, Rabuffo said, and according to English, the center is still first and foremost a charity.
“Lincoln remains fundamentally a charity run by volunteers. We appreciate the support the town has given us in recognizing the ability to sustain an additional fee to compensate out business model,” English said.
Selectman Laura Burns said the fee structure would be continually evaluated moving forward to ensure fairness across the board.