The town has decided not to renew its agreement with two women who have managed the seven Peters Pond-front rental cottages at Oakcrest Cove. Instead, the cottages will be turned over to the town’s recreation department.
Joanne T. O’Keefe and Laurie Dickey have overseen the weekly rental and upkeep of the cottages on the town-owned property for the past five summers. The women ran the rental cottages as a business, booking rentals and collecting the fees from vacationing guests. At the end of each season, they turned a portion of the income over to the town, as stipulated in the management agreement the women signed with the town in 2010.
But after five years, the town is rethinking how the cottages should be used. In September, selectmen voted unanimously not to renew the management agreement with the women.
“We didn’t think the town was ultimately benefiting enough from the arrangement to make it worthwhile for us to continue,” assistant town manager Douglas A. Lapp said.
The women were shocked by the decision.
“We were completely blindsided,” Ms. O’Keefe said. “It came out of the blue. We had no indication that they were unhappy with the way things were going.”
When the management agreement was signed, the women agreed to provide the town with five percent of their gross income from the rentals. As part of the deal, they also agreed upon an absolute minimum payment each year to the town, based on estimated income.
In the end, that is exactly what the town got: the minimum payment, which totaled $13,848 over the five years.
“Not a penny more,” Mr. Lapp said.
Mr. Lapp said on top of receiving just the minimum each year, the town paid for repairs to the cottages, such as a new roof on one of the buildings, and paid to heat the cottages minimally during the winter to keep the pipes from freezing. Mr. Lapp said heating the cottages was less expensive than winterizing them each fall.
“We barely broke even,” Mr. Lapp said.
“We appreciate all their efforts,” Mr. Lapp said of Ms. O’Keefe and Ms. Dickey, “but we just weren’t benefiting from the agreement. We have to look out for the best interests of the town. We saw the agreement out to its end. But we’re not renewing it.”
Ms. O’Keefe said she never had one complaint about the management of the property; in fact, she said, she had many repeat customers during the years. She said that they rarely had a vacancy.
“Okay, perhaps our rent was a little low, but there is only so much you can earn there,” she said. “I’m not sure what they were expecting.”
Ms. O’Keefe said she spent money furnishing the cottages with major and small appliances, furniture, plates, pots and pans, linens, even a hot water heater for one of the cottages.
“This all cost me,” she said.
She also said the town insisted that she provide detailed financial documents for the operation of the business beyond standard tax returns. She provided her financials, but not to the degree the town was asking.
“The accountants I talked with said the town’s request was overburdensome. It would have cost me $20,000 to get them what they were asking for,” she said
But Mr. Lapp said the management agreement stipulates that the women were responsible for furnishing the cottages and for providing the detailed financial statements that Ms. O’Keefe referred to.
“It was all in the contract that they signed,” Mr. Lapp said. “There should have been no surprises.”
Ms. O’Keefe and Ms. Dickey were not the first to partner with the town to manage Oakcrest Cove since voters approved purchasing the 83-acre property in 2002.
The first was Michael D. Levine, who attempted to operate the property as a campground in 2005. He left after one season. Donald Cox then took over management of the property’s lodge building in 2006 to host catered functions. He sold the catering business later that same year to Richard A. Villani and Richard W. Galt, who took over management of the lodge. They defaulted on their agreement with the town in 2008.
Ms. O’Keefe, who lived in one of the cabins during the rental season so she could provide round-the-clock oversight to the property, said her good-byes in town on October 17 and moved to St. Augustine, Florida.
“I’m just so disappointed,” she said. “I spent a boatload of dough. I never collected a salary. I poured my heart and soul into these cottages, and it was like ‘boom.’ We’re out.”
She said she would have loved the opportunity to address selectmen prior to their vote, but was not offered the chance.
“They had their minds made up. They were determined. So much for a public/private partnership,” she said.
Next summer, the cottages will be managed by the recreation department, which has its offices in the Oakcrest Cove lodge. The department uses much of the property for its activities, such as its hugely successful Fun Fun summer camp.
“We’d like to move some of our programming into the cottages,” recreation director Guy J. Boucher said. “We’re growing and we could really use the extra indoor space.”
Mr. Boucher said while he has not gotten the approval yet, he envisions using one cottage for craft activities and another for fun science activities.
“Maybe we could even host yoga retreats or father and son fishing getaways,” he said.
He said the town could also use some of the cottages for seasonal housing for summer interns or lifeguards.
But what the town is not going to do is use the cottages for weekly vacation rentals.
“We’re not going to get ourselves into that,” Mr. Lapp said.