Reason #12 why the Y Camp deal is a bad deal for Charlestown taxpayers … as if we really needed more reasons.
By Linda Felaco
On January 23, three Charlestown residents drove to Town Hall under a fog advisory to express their reservations about various aspects of the proposal for the town to purchase the YMCA camp. Yet they only scratched the surface of all the reasons this deal should have been a nonstarter. Progressive Charlestown recently published 10 reasons the deal is a bad one for Charlestown taxpayers, only to quickly uncover an 11th reason, namely, the adverse opinion from the Conservation Commission that Mr. Rooney spoke about at the Citizens Forum.
Indeed, rather than offer any rationale for why the property is worth the nearly half-million dollars town taxpayers are being asked to pay, the advisory tell us that the purchase would “fund the programs of the YMCA, which benefit Charlestown residents” (p. 1). Programs for which the users pay. So why are further donations required beyond the usual fees for services?
Apparently by buying the property, we’re not purchasing anything at all but making a donation to the Y. As if we hadn’t already “donated” enough via forgone tax revenues on the property for the past 68 years.
And we’ve got to do it pronto; we’ve been told the Y wants to complete the sale by June. But why the sudden rush after the camp has been vacant for 4 years? The YMCA paid nothing to acquire the camp in 1985 and has never paid anything in taxes on it. And according to their IRS-990 report, they are flush with cash. So what’s the sudden emergency? It’s hard to escape the conclusion that now that Ted Veazey has dangled the prospect of that $735,000 in front of them, they want that money one way or the other.
If there is indeed some legitimate reason the transaction needs to happen in a certain time frame, let the YMCA finance the sale itself. Or let them take the $367,000 the state is offering and be happy with that. Last time I checked, this was still a buyer’s market. Why is the seller dictating the terms of the sale?
|This is the only area of Watchaug Pond where there are residential |
neighborhoods. The public has access to the rest of the pond
via either state-owned land or the Kimball Wildlife
Refuge. Why do we need to buy more access?
But for the sake of argument, let’s say we’re feeling generous, even after having recently taxed ourselves a million and change for the beach pavilions. (A much better investment that will actually benefit all Charlestown residents, in my opinion.) Just how generous should we be expected to be? The Y’s asking price is based on the land being developed as a tax-generating residential subdivision. Leaving it as open space makes it a money-losing proposition—because now on top of the forgone taxes, we’re saddled with demolition and maintenance costs—rather than a moneymaking one via the future revenue Ted Veazey’s conservation development would have brought in.
And under the terms of the DEM grant, which according to Russ Ricci of the Charlestown Land Trust allows us to acquire the property for “50 cents on the dollar” (not really; see below), the property will never be able to be developed; the state will have an easement on it.
Not to mention that the state already owns at least three-quarters of the frontage on Watchaug Pond. Plus there’s the Audubon’s Kimball Wildlife Refuge. What does the state, or the town, really need with another 700 feet of pond frontage, unconnected to the rest of it that’s already open to the public and hemmed in by residential neighborhoods? To me, it makes much more sense to buy the current YMCA camp (lot 116 in the map above) as open space, seeing as how it abuts the southeasternmost point of the state-owned property surrounding the pond (lots 114 and 115).
And as weird as it is for me to say this, having been a city girl most of my life, but does 27.7 acres really qualify as “open space”? There’s more open space here on Biscuit City Road; there’s a 55-acre parcel behind me and a 161-acre property across the street from me that extends all the way to South Kingstown.
It will be interesting to see the results of the appraisal. The DEM won’t pay more than half of the appraised fair market value, nor will they pay any of the other expenses such as demolition. So the $367,000 grant could end up being less if the appraisal comes in any lower than $735,000. Yet not only are we expected to pay for everything over and above the amount of the DEM grant, but we’re expected to volunteer as demolitionists and as “friends” of the site to help maintain it (see p. 3 of the linked document).
All this is being asked of us to benefit the YMCA, the Sonquipaug Association, and Ruth Platner’s friends.