The following is a Letter to the Editor from Arlington resident Stephen Harrington, a Town Meeting member from Precinct 13. Harrington regarding Arlington's seasonal ban on gas-powered leaf blowers. His decision to submit the petition .
The Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) is a private non-profit that has served, since 1972, the communities of Somerville, Medford and Arlington to protect and restore the Mystic River by mobilizing volunteers. A laudable mission. Most of MyRWA's funding comes from State and local grants of which 20 percent is given in compensation to the executive director, according to the most recent IRS filings available.
Since at least 2006, and possibly for more than 10 years, MyRWA has had office space in the Town owned Central School building directly behind . This private group occupies 769 square feet of office space in that building that also rents space, for about $19 a square foot, to a variety of other private non-profits, such as the Arlington Housing Corp and the Schools for Children as well as several State agencies.
The Town of Arlington, through the Department of Community Planning and the Redevelopment Board, has allowed MyRWA to occupy that space, which arguably is worth $15,000 per year, for nothing, nada, zip. By the Town's own calculation, the lights, heating and other operating expenses exceed $5,000 per year for the office that MyRWA occupies, rent free.
The Planning Department and the Redevelopment Board have no authority to give away public resources ($150,000 over the past 10 years) to select, private groups. Recently, I directed the Town Manager to start collecting rents from MyRWA, although he only agreed to charge MyRWA the $5,000 or so per year operating expenses and not the $19/square foot market rate that other, also worthy, non-profits pay for rent. The free rent and give-away of public resources to the MyRWA is hardly an isolated case and the Town has an obligation to end this practice.
Compare this one example of the Town giving tens of thousands of dollars of public resources to privileged groups, while also complaining in the media and of the relatively small expense of citizens exercising their civil rights and calling for a Town Meeting or Special Election that our elected officials do not support. The $15,000 a year in rent that the Town must collect from this one group is enough to cover the cost of three Special Town Meetings, every year for the foreseeable future, that residents of Arlington should feel free to use to exercise their civil rights and have their grievances heard by our elected representatives.
Town Meeting Member