When the expenses of Brooklin’s old town hall recently surpassed the building’s rental income, officials in the seaside community wanted to sell. But residents have declined.
Voters at Saturday’s annual town meeting overwhelmingly rejected an article that would have authorized the town’s select board to put the former municipal building on the market.
“Several people said, ‘Once you sell it, you never get it back,’” said William Cohen, the chairman of the board.
For years, the building has been rented out at rock bottom rents – so low that the town loses money on the Mountain Ash Road property. Feeling a fiduciary responsibility to the taxpayers, the board sought to offload the building, which is currently assessed at $115,300 and leased to a pottery cooperative and fitness studio for about $3,600 a year.
But residents don’t want to see the building, the municipal center of town from the late 1970s to early 1990s, fall into private hands.
Lila Balch, one of the potters at the co-op, feared she would have to move her pottery business outside of Brooklin if the town decided to sell and was overwhelmed with happiness by the town meeting vote.
“It felt like it unified the town,” Balch said. “It was a very joyful feeling.”
While the vote means the town will hold onto the property, town officials say they will need to raise the rents and likely create a reserve fund for maintenance.
“The message I took away was that folks understood that we needed to charge enough so the town doesn’t subsidize those businesses,” Cohen said.
Select Board member David Reiley said he expected the town to go through that process in the coming weeks and fix the “brief and loosely worded” existing lease.
“We’re not going to kick any tenants out but we are going to have to address the inadequate rent,” he said.
From the 1920s to the 1950s, the building was part of a sprawling summer resort. After that, it was converted into a school of theology. A group of residents later bought the property and gave the building to the town for a new town office.
Last week’s town meeting vote came as a relief to Sandy Buxton, who has run the fitness studio in the building for more than a decade. She wanted the property to stay with the town in perpetuity, but for now is waiting to see how the new rents shape up.
“We all hope it works out well,” she said. “It’ll be something we look forward to getting on the other side of.”