The Taxpayer Should Be The Priority
$30-40 Million Cost Is Painful
By William Legault
Secretary of State William Galvin has decided that the best location for the Southern Essex County Registry of Deeds are the old Superior Court and County Clerk’s buildings on the corner of Federal and Washington Streets. Mayor Kim Driscoll, Senator Joan Lovely, and Representative Paul Tucker are in full agreement with Galvin’s decision. House Bill 2837, authorizing this move was written by Lovely and Tucker and has passed a vote of the lawmakers.
For the last eight years the Registry of Deeds has been located at Shetland Park. John O’Brien, the Essex County Registrar Of Deeds is quite comfortable with the location and opposes any move back to the downtown. He is very happy with the ample parking, the flexibility of space that the building provides, and what he considers to be favorable to the taxpayer leasing rates. He believes that staying at Shetland will save the state money in the long run.
This is a true conflict between opposing government entities. City officials want the buildings active and would like to see the issue of use resolved sooner rather than later. Bringing government services back would mean that appropriate funding would be available to restore the buildings and maintain their historic architectural features. Those costs are estimated at $30-40 million. If these buildings were to be put out to bid for private development there are concerns that the costs involved would result in plans that would compromise the historical integrity of the structures. There is also a concern that if the buildings stand empty long enough that safety concerns will being about the need for demolition.
Registrar O’Brien’s opinion should be the one that matters the most here. County voters have elected him to look after their best interests and he has a sterling record in that regard. Secretary Galvin has chosen to go along with our Mayor and Legislators. There is no doubt here that the Mayor, Senator Lovely, and Representative Tucker have good intentions, but in a dense city with a crowded downtown it would best serve the city’s interest, and the county’s interest that the registry remain at Shetland.
It is asserted by O’Brien that Galvin’s office has failed to communicate with his him during the decision making process. If that is true, then it shows a lack of due diligence and a lack of proper respect to O’Brien on Galvin’s part.
The location of these two buildings on the edge of the downtown, adjacent to the Salem MBTA Station assures that developers will have more than passing interest in bidding to buy them. Sale to a private entity would also put the two buildings onto the tax rolls. In a city already filled with government and non-profit organizations who pay no taxes that would be a good thing. City budgets cannot live on PILOT (Payment In Lieu of Taxes), and SILOT (Services in Lieu of Taxes) aggreements alone.
The example of the old Temple Shalom on Lafayette Street should be the model here. It was purchased and renovated by a private developer who maintained the integrity of the building, modernized it’s utilities, and built it out by agreement to meet the requirements of Salem State University. The developer made money, the school got what it needed, and a building that was never on the tax rolls now pays the same taxes everybody else pays.
The city has needs, the registry has needs, and the taxpayers have needs. In this case maybe it’s time for the taxpayers to be the priority.