Barnstable County Leases Questioned

BARNSTABLE – Barnstable County officials are facing questions over what many are considering to be questionable leasing practices on county-owned properties.

In particular is the revelation that Senior Living Residences of Cape Cod, a self-described public-private partnership, is operating an 84 unit assisted living facility on county owned land and paying just $1 dollar a year to lease the land as part of a 50-year lease signed more than a decade ago.

These financial relationships have come at a time when the county is facing monetary hardship, after cutting more than one million dollars for their fiscal year 2018 budget, and having agreed to a multi-million dollar settlement with the Town of Barnstable regarding water contamination at the Barnstable County Fire and Rescue Training Academy.

The property in question is a 70-acre piece of partially developed land in the Pocasset section of Bourne, which was previously home to the former county hospital.

The information was brought to light by Barnstable County Administrator John “Jack” Yunits, who released the lease data in advance of a financial audit of county assets that had been conducted through the State Auditor’s office.

“It’s not going to look good when we get the audit back, we know that, we’ve known that for a while. This is not coming as a surprise,” said Yunits.

The Senior Living Residences of Cape Cod lease agreement was not the only county executed property contract to raise eyebrows.

On the same property are offices for Gosnold on Cape Cod, AmeriCorps, and the Bourne Society for Historic Preservation’s Valley Farm Thrift Shop all of whom pay rents well below market value, with some providing no payment at all to the county.

Yunits has announced that many of the leases executed on county land have been done in violation of Massachusetts law, which requires any county real estate being offered for sale or lease be presented first to the Commonwealth, then to the town where the property is located, and only then to other entities and only at what appraisers determine to be fair market value.

“It was never offered to the Commonwealth, as it was supposed to be, it was never offered to the Town of Bourne, as it was supposed to be, and the appraisal, ironically enough, was an appraiser hired by the developer, so it wasn’t an independent appraisal” Yunits told commissioners.

“So there are a lot of issues that the county has to deal with that make that lease potentially voidable, and that’s huge because that is a significant asset to the county potentially.”

At a meeting of the Barnstable County Commissioners last month, Yunits informed the board that because these agreements were entered into unlawfully, they are all voidable.

The properties must now be appraised, offered to the Commonwealth, offered to the Town of Bourne, and if they should both pass then the current tenants would have the opportunity to renegotiate, but only if they are willing to pay market rates.

“We’re going to need as a body, we’re going to need the commissioners to instruct us if we want to move forward aggressively with lawyers,” Yunits said.

A question that was not discussed at length at the commissioners’ meeting is one that many across the cape are now left to consider. Why were these agreements entered into in the first place? How could the county agree to one dollar per year, or less, leases for contracts extending decades?

The 50-year lease allowing Senior Living Resources of Cape Cod to take over 59 acres of county property was signed in 2003, before Yunits or any of the three current commissioners where in their positions.

Yunits did tell the board of commissioners that he felt the agreements were probably not entered into with malicious intent.

By DAVID BEATTY, CapeCod.com NewsCenter

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