BROOKLIN, Maine — For years, Brooklin has rented out its old town office at rock-bottom rents. The price is so low that the cost of utilities alone is rivaling the town’s rental income.
Tired of being a landlord with a property that loses money, the Select Board thinks it’s finally time to offload the building, but will have to get residents’ approval first — something that’s been denied in the past.
The board has put an article on the spring town meeting warrant asking voters to authorize the sale of the old town hall on Mountain Ash Road. Voters have rejected similar votes in the past because they didn’t want to lose the village green that’s on the same property, town officials said. To avoid that problem, the Select Board is also asking to subdivide the land.
For Select Board member David Reiley, selling just makes good business sense.
“It’s our idea to get rid of a property that is a loss to the town,” he said. “With electric bills going absolutely ballistic, it just doesn’t make sense for us to hold onto that facility.”
The old town hall was once part of the Mountain Ash Inn, a sprawling summer resort. The inn operated from the 1920s to the 1950s before falling by the wayside. The property was purchased by the Faith School of Theology, a religious school that opened in the inn’s old cottages.
That venture eventually failed too. With the 22-acre property decaying, a group of residents banded together and bought the former inn from the school.
The largest building there was sold to WoodenBoat Magazine and now serves as the dormitory for the magazine’s boat building school. Another approximately 3-acre parcel was given to the town and the building on it was converted into the town hall.
The building, which by itself is assessed at $115,300, served as the locus of municipal business from 1977 until the early 1990s. The town office then moved into its present home in what’s known as the little red school in town.
Since then, the town has rented out the old building. The first tenant was a childcare provider.
“The rent was extremely minimal so that could happen on an affordable basis for families,” Reiley said.
The rent remains low. The current tenants, an exercise studio and a pottery cooperative, pay a combined annual rent of about $3,600 — a cost that’s less than the building’s utility bills this year, officials said.
Aside from losing money, the town is looking to get out of maintaining the old building. Select Board member William Cohen started to question the point of holding onto it last year, after an issue with the septic system ran up a bill that exceeded $4,000.
“It just doesn’t make sense to us,” he said.
But many residents who spoke up at a meeting Wednesday aren’t convinced the town should rid itself of the property.
Lila Balch, one of the potters at the co-op, thanked the town for everything it had done to allow her and the other potters to work there, but worried that if the town decided to sell the property, the co-op and studio wouldn’t be able to stay in Brooklin, a small peninsula with rising real estate prices.
“It would be hard for us to be anywhere else,” she said.
Resident Jerry Gray feared giving up the property for financial reasons, saying there was a lot of history there and the town might need the building in the future.
“Once you sell it, you’re not going to get it back,” he said.
Some felt the board should figure out rental prices that would make it feasible for the town to keep the building.
Still, Reiley felt that asking the board to continue to be property managers is too big of a request.
“We’ve got enough on our platters without being landlords,” he said.