County vs. Commonwealth Property

Open Cape leased a building through Barnstable County that the commonwealth now says it owns.

Several structures at the Barnstable County Complex are not owned by the county as previously thought, but rather are owned by the commonwealth, according to the Massachusetts Division of Capital Asset Management and Maintenance.

On Monday, October 7, Barnstable County Commissioner Ronald R. Beaty Jr. received a report from the state agency that stated that the Public Safety Building, which houses the nonprofit OpenCape, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations building and the telecommunications tower are owned by the commonwealth through the sheriff.

“That came as another shock to everybody,” Mr. Beaty said.

In 2010, county sheriffs’ offices were transferred to the commonwealth, thereby transferring the buildings owned by the sheriff to the state as well.

“The deeds and transferring of title never happened, which is why we thought we still owned it,” Mr. Beaty said.

The Barnstable County Jail and House of Corrections is owned by Barnstable County, the report stated. The former jail is currently in use by the Barnstable County Department of Health and Environment and the Southeast Regional Offices of the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Protection.

But DCAMM’s report also stated, “All other property, including the telecommunications tower, the Bureau of Criminal Investigations Building, the Public Safety Building, and the land on which they are situated, has been transferred to the Commonwealth.”

The telecommunications tower that is owned by the commonwealth was built with county funds, and the building currently occupied by OpenCape, a nonprofit technology company, was upgraded with county and federal funds in 2006, said Barnstable County Administrator John (Jack) Yunits Jr.

Mr. Yunits said that he does not agree with the DCAMM opinion, but there is not a lot of reasons to change anything right now. He thinks the telecommunication tower should remain in the hands of the sheriff’s office. The tower, which receives 911 calls, serves an important public service.

“The sheriff does a great job with what he’s doing,” Mr. Yunits said.

The main concern, Mr. Beaty said, is with the building occupied by OpenCape, a nonprofit technology organization that provides a fiber-optic network to businesses and residents around southern Massachusetts. OpenCape has a long-term lease with Barnstable County, Mr. Beaty said.

“It throws a monkey wrench in it. If the county never owned it, then the lease is void,” Mr. Beaty said.

Mr. Yunits said that if the state wants to take over the building, they should pay some money for it, as the county put a lot of money into renovations.

Still, Mr. Yunits thinks the question of ownership is almost a moot issue and that they can just “agree to disagree.”

Mr. Beaty said the conversations will continue as to what each organization should own.

“We have to straighten this out,” Mr. Beaty said. “You can’t really have questions like that with governmental entities with who owns what property.”

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