Selectmen pondering lease agreement with Social Service League

Marita Carpenter, president of the Social Service League of Cohasset (SSL), told Tinytown Unleashed that the League expects to receive its occupancy permit for the new Senior Center at 91 Sohier Street, Cohasset in a few weeks. At this point, only the SSL will occupy the building. And it may be the only occupants through June.

Carpenter said the League is continues to fundraise (SSL, PO Box 603, Cohasset, 02025) and a guided tour of the building is scheduled to take place on Sunday, November 16 the day before Special Town Meeting. Anyone wishing a tour of the building should call Carpenter on her cell phone at 781-710-5791.

Construction costs total $3.7 million. The SSL has committed $2M to the construction of the proposed Senior Center, in which it plans to locate its permanent office. Another $1.2 million has come in through donations; $360,000 in pledges is outstanding. That money will come in over the next threeto-five years.

Rockland Trust has given the League a $700,000 line of credit, and a major fundraising piece of literature is being mailed to residents this month.

People are excited about the proposed Senior Center.

But town officials are nervous.

At an April 2, 2013 BOS meeting Glenn Pratt, a member of the Social Service League building committee, said the Senior Center project would not be started until the SSL had all the money.

On May 7, 2013 the Town transferred land to SSL. At a previous meeting Selectman Martha Gjesteby had refused to sign off on the land. She said the Memo of Understanding between the town and the SSL required a lease to be signed before transferring land. Some in the community say what the board of selectmen allowed is criminal. Anyone who has bought or sold his home knows land is conveyed pursuant to a binding purchase and sale agreement. Only the board of selectmen can convey land – and they gave it up with no contract. Selectmen are now trying to do due diligence after the fact. The building is built, most of the money has been raised. The cost of operating the building will be whatever the cost of operating the building will be. 

Directly after 2013 annual elections Glenn Pratt told selectmen  there would be no town meeting vote. He stated “…the town has done just that over the past several years during the process.”

Paul Kierce of Elder Affairs said because the project was not complete, the town could not vote on it. “After the project is complete the budget and costs would be looked at,” Kierce said. Town Counsel agrees with Kierce. This is now a private project. The Senior Center Planning committee, charged with representing the town’s interests in this project cease to have any input under Massachusetts General Law. The committee disbands.

The SSL now moves forward on construction, in spite of a court ruling said its money from the Willcutt Trust ($2 million) couldn’t be utilized until all other money had been raised.

Article 6 of the Nov. 17, 2014 Special Town Meeting Warrant directs Town Manager Chris Senior to perform an extensive legal and operations review of the proposed Senior Center building at 91 Sohier Street.

Town officials are wondering what the penalties to the Town will be for breaking the prevailing wages law, should the town be gifted the building at a future date. The prevailing wages law states that the town cannot engage in a fraudulent end run-around the bidding/prevailing wage laws. It is true that the Town certainly had no involvement in the project as to size of the building, etc., but it was always publicized that the end result of the project would be for the town to take ownership for a nominal fee. In fact, no one else could accept this building designated for Elder Services by the SSL endowment criterion. Will a series of land swaps make it through a judicial examination of what happened here?

Carpenter says it is her desire to have the building gifted to the Town as soon as possible but the SSL is asking the Town to sign a three-year lease.

The town is concerned about the unknown costs of operating & maintaining an 8,000 sq. ft. building for a small Elders Affairs population whose current budget is a quarter of a million dollars a year. What will the potential impact be on funds available for other town services such as schools, fire and police?

Do the terms of the Willcutt Trust allow anything else to happen at 91 Sohier Street? Carpenter says yes, as long as it doesn’t happen during Elder Affairs time. But while she says the building would not be considered “single use,” she went on to say only Elder Affairs-types of municipal operations could be housed there – Veterans affairs, the Town Nurse. In other words, this is in fact a single purpose building.

SSL and Elder Affairs have always known what was required in order for the town to at some point assume ownership of the private project.

The MOU was drafted by and in conjunction with former Town Manager Mike Coughlin, Town Counsel and with the Social Service League attorney, Joel Carpenter, husband of Marita Carpenter, President of the South Shore Social League of Cohasset.

Now, Chris Senior is involved in doing the due diligence his predecessor, Mike Coughlin, wrote into the MOU agreement. It should have been done sometime in 2011 – directly after the MOU had been agreed to.

If Senior doesn’t find a legal and financial way for Elders Affairs to occupy 91 Sohier Street by the beginning of February 2015, we have little doubt this will be 2015’s political football. One of them, anyway. Seniors and people who wrote large checks for the project will not want the building to sit vacant for long.

It is thought that town meeting will get final dibs on this issue. Unless selectmen have found away to cut town meeting out. Selectmen are scheduled to meet 11/05 on the SSL’s proposed lease agreement.

Some of the points made in the original MOU:

2(d) Construction Planning and Implementation. The Town and the SSL both acknowledge and agree that the construction of the Senior Center will follow all applicable public bidding and prevailing wage requirements.  The construction of the $3.7 million building did not follow prevailing wage requirements. This law would probably not kick in until such time as the town owned the building.

2(f). Transfer of Ownership of Senior Center to Town – for a nominal fee. This is no longer possible.  While a transfer for a nominal fee remains undetermined, the potential cost of a 3-year lease and future O&M must be acknowledged.

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© Copyright 2014 Tanna K, All rights Reserved. Written For: Tinytown Unleashed
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