It took eight years and numerous delays but the agreement with the insurance company to complete construction of the new library building by April 4 was substantially fulfilled on time. A certificate of occupancy for the new building was issued on March 20. But there were no celebrations at the Accomack County Board of Supervisors meeting Wednesday night.
On the agenda was the approval of the lease between the County, the Library Board of Trustees and the Library Foundation that would allow the start of the moving process on Monday. But over the weekend the Foundation and the Board of Trustees of the Library sent a strong letter to the Board of Supervisors with four objections concerning the lease which was up for approval. The lease, which was submitted to the Library groups three years ago, needs to be approved by both parties before the moving process can begin. But the Trustees cancelled the start of the moving process on Monday due to their concerns.
Their objections were as follows:
The Library group objects to a provision that allows the County to maintain minimum insurance on 80% of the value of the property. In response to that, County Administrator Mike Mason told the Board that this gives the County the option of establishing a fund that would cover emergency repairs should insurance rates become prohibitive. Mason said that that policy covers all of the County buildings but hasn’t been used to date. Mason said that as of now all of the County Buildings are covered at 100% replacement value as will the Library. Mason said this is standard policy for all County buildings.
Another concern is that there is language that the Library group believes cancels the Memorandum of Understanding between the three entities in 2018. Mason said that because the lease is between the Library Trustees and the County and the MOU is between all three parties, there is no language that would cancel the agreement. Never the less, the Board of Supervisors did agree to include language that the MOU is not affected by this lease which would guarantee that it would remain in effect.
Another concern is that the County could use equity in the Library to borrow money which would extend the end of the lease and the transfer of the property to the Trustees. The staff responded that in the event that capitol improvements need to be made during the term of the lease, any extension would have to be in writing and approved by all parties involved. The staff report said that this interpretation is absurd and is counter to the actions the Board of Supervisors have taken to date to include borrowing over $2 million to finance a portion of the construction costs, the appropriation of over $225,000 in additional revenue from ARPA funding for repairs to the roof and other needs, moving forward with construction despite no commitment from Northampton County at that time , absorbing all project administration, legal, procurement, property insurance, and general management costs for the project since its inception. There have been thousands of hours devoted to this project since day one, often straining County resources.
The Trustees also feared that part of the lease that would allow either side to cancel and would enable the County to take over the facility. Mason said that the lease clearly states that in case of a catastrophic event that would render the Library uninhabitable and unusable for its purpose, the lease could be terminated by either party involved. Mason said that realistically, the parties would evaluate the options at the time and reach another agreement if needed. This would provide flexibility to the parties. The staff suggested that no revisions be made to this section of the lease.
The fourth concern is language that would require the building to be transferred to the Library group at the end of the lease in the same condition as when it was at it’s beginning. Mason said that this language would prevent the County from having to make major repairs during the time between when the debts are satisfied and the property is turned over. The staff suggested that language be added that the County would convey the building immediately following the satisfaction of all debts as is.
Supervisor Paul Muhly said that he had spent time with the County Attorney on the provisions of the lease earlier this week and as a result of that meeting all of his questions were answered and if it were his prerogative to do so, he would recommend the Library Trustees to sign the lease. Muhly said that the Library Board and the County officials need to sit down together and get the misunderstanding ironed out. Muhly said that the problem is that we are trying to agree on a lease but one of the parties isn’t here.
The Board then voted 8-1 to approve the lease with Muhly being the no vote and send it to the Trustees for their approval.
Chairman Robert Crockett then said, “I have one comment to end this. The public has experienced delay after delay with the new library building project. County staff has put in thousands of hours to arrive at a point of opening, only to learn on Saturday that the Public Library Board of Trustees had cancelled the movers which had a scheduled date of Monday, April 24. In the letter from the Eastern Shore Public Library Foundation on Saturday, they, in so many words, alleged that the County is attempting to renege on an agreement that was made with the Board of Trustees and Foundation, allegations that Mr. Mason has clearly proven wrong. This is the final lease. My suggestion is sign it or not. This is the final lease. If they had simply picked up the phone and called the Chairman of the Board of Supervisors, me, prior to sending this letter and attachments, we could have discussed the issues. But they decided to send this letter, accusing us of reneging on this agreement and that, I don’t appreciate.”
Clarification: The Northampton County Board of Supervisors later did help fund the Heritage Center at the new Library.
The above story is based on what happened at Wednesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting. We have reached out to the Library parties for their comments.