Subscribe to the Duxbury Clipper and stay informed where news matters most –– your hometown!
|Discord over beach lease|
|Written by Susanna Sheehan|
|Tuesday, 26 November 2013 12:28|
The costs to maintain and repair Duxbury beach have risen and the beach’s owner, Duxbury Beach Reservation, Inc., is looking to the town to help shoulder some of this burden. However, town officials are not yet convinced they should pay an extra $200,000 annually to lease the beach.
The Board of Selectmen met with officers from the Duxbury Beach Reservation, Inc. Monday night to discuss the Reservation’s request to add $200,000 to the lease payment, bringing the total to $600,000. The town has been leasing the barrier beach from the non-profit Reservation since 1975.
The Reservation said the organization is broke and needs the extra money to start paying back a nearly $1 million deficit due mainly to borrowing for storm damage repairs over the past ten years.
Town officials said this year’s beach closures due to protected shore birds impacted beach permit revenues. They are worried about selling enough beach stickers next year and where to find the extra $200,000 in the budget for the lease payment. Also, they do not feel that raising beach permit fees an extra $20 each as the Reservation recommends is the solution. Instead, Town Manager René Read suggests phasing in money for the lease payments over the next few years and he is proposing a new sticker discount/increase program to get people to buy stickers early.
The cost to repair the beach after the Blizzard of 2013 was $986,504. In March, town meeting voters approved adding $200,000 to the beach lease to help the Reservation pay for beach reconstruction. The repaired beach re-opened in the spring, only to have the off-road vehicle corridor closed for 34 days from June to July because of a record number of 18 piping plover pairs.
The Reservation provided figures for the past ten years showing that it has been running at a deficit of between $100,000 to $300,000 annually. With the storm damage, that deficit jumped to $979,328 in 2013. The Reservation said it needs money from the town to pay down this debt.
“In light of the costs to maintain, improve, and operate the beach in the leased area and the blizzard expenses, DBR is compelled to keep the lease amount at $600,000,” said Reservation Trustee Bob Hayes. “We cannot protect this valuable resource unless the expenses incurred in maintaining and improving the beach are covered by the lease payment. Even with this increase, it will take four years until the revenues cover the incurred losses.”
The Reservation has a $3.3 million reserve fund it is saving for what it calls a “catastrophic” storm, such as the No Name storm of 1991 — one that will cost $5 million or more. The Reservation is beginning a capital campaign asking for private donations for the storm damage fund, and it uses this money as collateral for loans, as it did to fund the blizzard repairs.
Read and Finance Director John Madden met with the Reservation in October to propose phasing in extra money over four years, paying an extra $50,000 per year. The Reservation wanted the town to add $20 to the price of each sticker, which would raise almost all of the extra $200,000.
Read said the beach closures cost the town $110,000 in revenue, as 392 people asked for the one-time refund offered by the town. He feels that many people will either not buy beach stickers next year or will wait to see if the beach will be closed again.
To combat this, Read is proposing a sticker discount/increase program. He would like to offer a discount for all beach stickers (except senior permits) from January until May and then raise the prices starting in June. For example, a non-resident over-sand permit that currently costs $295 would decrease in price in January by $40 to $255 then jump to $325 on June 1. A resident over-sand sticker now priced at $160 would cost $30 less, or $130, but increase to $180.
“We believe we have created a scenario which could work to the favor of all parties – most notably the patrons of Duxbury Beach,” said Read. ‘We think it’s a workable plan.”
Sticker sales would be done on-line, not in person or through the mail. Two computer kiosks would be set up at town hall for those wishing to get assistance for on-line purchases, said Read. Stickers would be mailed after payment.
He said the Fiscal Advisory Committee, which oversees all town fee increases, “embraced the methodology used and the overall concept.”
Trustee Al Vautrinot said the Reservation isn’t too concerned about how the town got the money as long as it could pay the lease increase. He said the Reservation allowed 500 vehicles on the beach but that the town decided to split that in half between residents and non-residents. He suggested that since there is more demand from non-residents that the town reconsider its policies if it needs more money.
“We need the money to operate the beach,” said Vautrinot.
Read said the town needed “flexibility” in order to pay more.
Paying an extra $200,000 for the beach lease meant less money for other needs such as the school, said Madden.
Selectmen said they wanted more time to understand the financial impacts of spending more on the beach lease. Selectmen Chairman David Madigan said he wanted a full accounting of where the beach revenues were spent and all the town’s costs associated with running the beach. He said the town needs to understand just how much they need to raise from sticker sales.
“I think we have homework to do,” said Madigan.
Selectman Ted Flynn said: “We understand the issue and we’re supportive of it. We just need more time to push the numbers around.”
Selectmen will meet again on this issue in December.