City Council approves Sound Rivers lease

Published 6:19 pm Thursday, May 12, 2016

Washington’s City Council, during its meeting Monday, unanimously approved a lease between the city and Sound Rivers.

The lease is for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1. The current lease between the city and Sound Rivers expires June 30. The new lease has Sound Rivers paying a $10 fee and utilities costs. It also requires Sound Rivers to share utilities costs with the Washington Tourism Development Authority, which also uses space at the former railroad depot that now houses Sound Rivers and the authority.

The approval came after Susan Zachary renewed her opposition to the lease. As she did at the council’s April 25 meeting, Zachary said she considers Sound Rivers, a nonprofit environmental organization dedicated to protecting water quality of area waterways, as an outside agency in that it receives support from the city. That support, she said, comes in the form of cheap rent for offices on the second floor of the building that houses the city’s tourism office, which is adjacent to the Civic Center. The $10 annual fee Sound Rivers pays the city for using the office space equates to unfair, special treatment of the nonprofit, she contends.

Zachary suggested the city give Sound Rivers three months to begin paying “reasonable rent” to the city or relocate.

Harrison Marks, executive director of Sound Rivers, said during its time in the office space provided by the city, Sound Rivers has made significant improvements to that space. During the past 30 years, the city has benefitted from Sound Rivers’ work to improve and protect the water quality of the Pamlico River, one of the city’s most important assets, Marks said. The city derives benefits from Sound Rivers, he said.

Marks said it makes sense for Sound Rivers to stay at its current location. “We haven’t looked … seriously at any other options,” he said.

Marks said Sound Rivers is not trying to hide its arrangement with the city, noting the lease is a public record and available for review by the public.

Councilman Doug Mercer noted that several organizations house in the city-owned Peterson Building receiving rent-free space. “I really think that if we’re going to allow people to use our facilities rent free, then that should show as a contribution … the same way we do all the other outside agencies,” he said

Mercer suggested delaying approval of the lease to allow City Manager Bobby Roberson time to talk with the organizations (Pamlico Pals, Special Olympics and the like) that receive rent-free use of the Peterson Building to determine if they would be willing to pay rent (about $1.74 per square foot) to the city in the future. Roberson said listing rent-free use of city facilities as contributions to the organizations could be accomplished easily.

Mayor Mac Hodges said the city should revisit the rent-free use of city facilities later this year (late summer or early fall). Mercer said any type contribution (in-kind services, in-kind use of city facilities) by the city should “show on a list somewhere so that we know what we gave to people.”









About Mike Voss

Mike Voss is the contributing editor at the Washington Daily News. He has a daughter and four grandchildren. Except for nearly six years he worked at the Free Lance-Star in Fredericksburg, Va., in the early to mid-1990s, he has been at the Daily News since April 1986.
Journalism awards:
• Pulitzer Prize for Meritorious Public Service, 1990.
• Society of Professional Journalists: Sigma Delta Chi Award, Bronze Medallion.
• Associated Press Managing Editors’ Public Service Award.
• Investigative Reporters & Editors’ Award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Public Service Award, 1989.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Investigative Reporting, 1990.
All those were for the articles he and Betty Gray wrote about the city’s contaminated water system in 1989-1990.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Investigative Reporting, 1991.
• North Carolina Press Association, Third Place, General News Reporting, 2005.
• North Carolina Press Association, Second Place, Lighter Columns, 2006.
Recently learned he will receive another award.
• North Carolina Press Association, First Place, Lighter Columns, 2010.
4. Lectured at or served on seminar panels at journalism schools at UNC-Chapel Hill, University of Maryland, Columbia University, Mary Washington University and Francis Marion University.

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