After nearly an hour in closed session, Watertown’s Public Works Commission agreed Tuesday night to have its city attorney draft a short-term, nonrenewable lease for Watertown AMVETS Post 35 so the group can continue using a storage facility at 722 O’Connell St. to house items for its annual rummage sales.
“I’m encouraging the commission to allow the AMVETS to stay in that building,” former alderman Ken Berg said Tuesday. “I served on the public works commission and I’m disappointed that it has taken this long.”
The news appears to be a breakthrough after city officials announced last month that both sides were having trouble even meeting at the negotiating table.
Berg said it has taken since November 2019 when Watertown Common Council members agreed to temporarily allow AMVETS Post 35 to maintain its 1,640-square-foot space used within a city-storage facility.
The November 2019 decision came in a crowded council chambers as many members of the public came to either show support for or against the resolution. During the nearly hour-long public input session at the 2019 meeting, council members heard from many different citizens. This included several citizens supporting statements for veterans and the AMVETS organization, with others asking the group to find another solution outside of the facility.
With the AMVETS remaining in the space, there is still the issue of the equipment and storage space needed for the city itself. The city has many pieces of equipment that needs to be stored indoors during the winter and was only able to find space for one vehicle in another city building during the process, according to an October 2019 memo sent by Mayor Emily McFarland. McFarland said back then due to the passing of the resolution, the city will now have to create space for these pieces of equipment or have the equipment suffer through outdoor storage, which will have an impact on the taxpayers.
The resolution, which was passed in November 2019, was amended twice before it was passed with the council unanimously approving to change the $1 lease from an initial five-year term to one-year terms as well as unanimously approving changing it from being renewable for additional five-year terms to additional one-year terms.
Tuesday night’s meeting was more amicable.
Watertown Public Works Commission Chairman Tom Pasch agreed.
“It was productive start to help find the best long-term solutions for the AMVETS and the city,” Pasch said.
Pasch, who is a U.S. Army veteran and former National Guardsman, said late last month the city and AMVETS must find a resolution.
On Wednesday, his comments went further. He said he would be in favor of sitting down with the AMVETS to discuss the issue.
“I believe the city and the AMVETS want mutual resolve,” he said. “There will be opportunity for additional discussions on this matter.”
Watertown City Attorney Rose Simon-Silva said the lease will remain consistent with terms set by the commission. Some of those terms include the hours of operation, which is 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Sunday and a security deposit of either $500 or a $500 bank letter of credit. AMVETS would have to pay for any damage done to the facility, too.
Simon-Silva said if minors are needed for any assistance during an event the city requests that it be consistent with an insurance rider or temporary coverage that would cover minors. She also said lease would be terminated following the AMVETS final event of 2021, which is some time in September, with an additional 30 days following it, which would be Oct. 31, 2021.
McFarland said once the lease is drafted with those terms, the city attorney will present it to the AMVETS and then the agreed upon lease will go to the city council for approval.
“I’m glad things are starting to progress,” AMVETS Post 35 Commander Mark Kottwitz said following Tuesday’s meeting. “We would be willing to sit down with the city attorney to discuss this further.”
Pasch said Wednesday the city is not trying to discourage the AMVETS’ mission.
“We have to be fair and consistent to all involved including the constituents, city and other non-profit organizations,” Pasch said. “We greatly respect the AMVETS and the City of Watertown does, too.”