To the Editor;
The Marion Open Spaces Acquisition Committee’s (MOSAC) $250,000 charitable contribution to the Sippican Lands Trust (SLT) is problematic.
MOSAC’s Town Meeting Warrant Article requests up to $250,000 for the purchase of a conservation easement on a 33.7-acre property to be owned by the SLT. MOSAC’s recently disclosed target purchase price is now $300,000.
Simply put, Town Meeting authorizes the Town to contribute up to $250,000, (83%) into the land deal. The SLT contributes $50,000 (17%) and purchases the ownership to the land. The Town receives no public benefit for the conservation easement since the land would be owned by the SLT, a private charitable conservation land trust.
The SLT’s ownership of the property provides the conservation protection of a restricted land trust, not the town’s conservation easement. The SLT can simply buy the property for $300,000 and the conservation restrictions would apply. Leaving the town out of the deal saves taxpayers up to $250,000, yet the property has the conservations restrictions through the SLT trust charter. Financial angels are available and SLT needs to go out and hustle the money to fund the deal.
If this property is of significant strategic importance to Marion’s Master Plan, the Town should simply up the $250,000 authorization by $50,000 (20%) and buy the property outright. This would give the Town complete one hundred percent ownership control over the use of the property for any public purposes. This would include use of the land’s water assets, use of the land for solar projects, affordable housing, and Marion recreation, conservation, bird sanctuary, and park. As the deal is now structured, the Town gives all these rights up to the SLT with the $250,000 charitable contribution. The SLT would own all the rights to the land for $50,000. The Town owning a conservation easement on property owned by a private charitable land trust is meaningless and servers no public purpose.
The MOSAC proposal can be realistically viewed as nothing more than a charitable contribution funding the SLT’s purchase of the land. This deal, as MOSAC has it structured, is problematic. The Commonwealth’s Constitutional Anti Aid Amendments prohibits municipalities from making charitable contributions to fund special interest or private projects such as the SLT land purchase.
If the deal were structured such that the Town would retain and reserve the rights in the land for water use and development, solar use, affordable housing and the like, at least there would be a colorable argument that the Town’s $250,000 contribution serves some public purposes.
Ted North, Marion
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