DCR hiring a debt collection agency

Agency was owed $422,000 at end of September

THE STATE DEPARTMENT OF CONSERVATION and Recreation – the largest landowner in the state — is in the process of hiring a debt-collection company to go after tenants who owe the agency thousands of dollars in delinquent rent.

As of the end of September, DCR was owed $422,000 in back rent by a total of 30 public and private sector entities, according to data obtained from the agency.

The offending tenants run the gamut from food concessionaires to skating rinks, from utility companies to cottage owners.

Corporate rent shirkers include AT&T ($12,825), National Grid ($12,115), Eversource ($6,005), and Verizon ($4,555), all of which are repeat offenders.

National Grid, Eversource, and Verizon said they are in the process of making their payments. AT&T did not comment.

The largest amount of delinquent rent due DCR, $115,000, is owed by New England Golf Management in Westwood, followed by the Auburn Golf Learning Center, $62,275, of Auburn.  DCR had agreements with the two companies to operate food concessions and pro golf shops at two of the courses the agency owns, but the firms have not operated on the agency’s property since 2015.

DCR issued a statement saying it is working with the state comptroller to hire a debt collector service, which is a strategy that was recommended by the state auditor as early as 2013.

“It’s mystifying that it would take five years to get such a basic program up and running,” said Mary Connaughton, director of government transparency at the Pioneer Institute, a public policy think tank in Boston. “If DCR was gung-ho about speeding up collections, this could have happened relatively quickly.”

The difficulty DCR encounters in trying to pry loose delinquent rent has been well documented in state audits and news reports. A consulting firm hired by DCR in 2014 has been paid over $1 million to date to help remedy such problems, but still they persist.

DCR is nonetheless making progress.  The total back rent currently owed the agency ($422,000) is down about 30 percent from a year ago. The majority of the decrease is a result of telecommunications companies that construct towers on agency property finally paying up; the total amount they owe dropped from $119,335 in 2017 to the current level of $1,800.

Fourteen people who rent land from DCR for cottages at state forests collectively owe the agency $145,450. The rental program began in 1919 after fires swept through the Myles Standish State Forest, leaving much of the area barren. State officials wanted to bring people back to the forest so they started renting land for campsites.  The cottage program is now being slowly phased out. None of the delinquent renters could be reached for comment.

There’s also the odyssey of the Franklin Regional Council of Governments, which coordinates regional activities of municipal governments in Franklin County. The group owes DCR back rent of $1,800 for using DCR towers to house emergency equipment.

The council went ahead and put up the emergency equipment without a signed lease in hand, but is now refusing to pay until the lease is executed. Linda Dunlavy, the executive director, said she received a contract from DCR in 2015 and sent it back with some proposed changes. Three years later, she said, DCR has yet to respond to the changes.

“We explained again that we do not have a signed contract, cannot pay the invoices without a signed contract, and have sent edits to the proposed contract,” she said.  “We have heard nothing since.”

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Three youth hockey organizations located in the Charlestown, Dorchester, and Hyde Park neighborhoods of Boston owe a combined $7,700 in back rent. Jay Rourke, the president of the Hyde Park group, which owes DCR $3,200, said he wasn’t happy to learn of the debt when he took over at the organization in April.

“I am hoping to pay off all our debts, including the one to DCR, by the end of the year,” he said.