MIDDLETON — An amendment calling for a financial audit of the Essex Sports Center was dropped from the budget bill that was sent to Gov. Charlie Baker on Wednesday.

But local state senators said they plan to file a bill on Friday to immediately revive the effort to examine the books of the troubled business that operates on state land.

"We're not going to let this go," said Sen. Joan Lovely, a Democrat from Salem. "We're not going to let up."

Lovely and Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr, R-Gloucester, were among the sponsors of the amendment calling for the state Inspector General to conduct a financial audit of the Essex Sports Center after reports that the business failed to pay property taxes to the town of Middleton and is being sued by an investor and contractor.

The sports center, which has two ice rinks and an indoor field, was built on state land next to Essex North Shore High School after a developer was awarded a controversial no-bid contract in 2014. The state serves as the landlord to the business, which pays the school $111,000 per year in lease payments.

The business has been on time with its lease payments, but Lovely said an audit is needed to protect the interests of the public. She described the sports center's financial problems as a "train wreck."

"If you look at how many layers are here, we can't stand by," she said. "We need to take action. That's state-owned land."

State Rep. Ted Speliotis, a Democrat from Danvers who also represents Middleton, said the amendment calling for the audit did not make it out of conference committee with the House due to concerns over costs. Speliotis said the Inspector General's office said it would need $100,000 to conduct the audit.

Speliotis said he does not see any value in doing an audit.

"We know that he hasn't paid his taxes, we know he's behind on his light bill," Speliotis said of the business. "That tells you he's in trouble financially. I don't need to spend public dollars to find that out."

The Essex North Shore School Committee has also called for an audit. The committee voted in May to request an audit, but has yet to formally make the request to the state. School Committee Chairwoman Melissa Teixeira said the school's attorney is working on a letter.

Brian DeVellis, Essex Sports Center’s manager and part owner, could not be reached for comment.

Staff writer Paul Leighton can be reached at 978-338-2675 or pleighton@salemnews.com.

 

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