Edgartown library foundation holds back on financial commitment

The Edgartown Library Foundation expressed strong support this week for the plan to build a new library on the site of the old Edgartown School. But members of the library design committee were upset and dismayed to learn, as they submitted the grant application on Wednesday, January 25, that the foundation’s leaders would not commit to raising money for the new library.

“ELF (Edgartown Library Foundation) unequivocally and enthusiastically supports the grant proposal submitted by library director Felicia Cheney,” foundation chairman Gwynneth Smith wrote in a letter to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners.

The design committee included the letter in its application for state funding. “ELF has and will continue to support the Edgartown Free Public Library with awareness-building activities and funding as its donors so designate; however, the amount and designated purpose of said funding is undetermined as of the date of the grant proposal.”

The foundation this week raised the possibility of beginning a capital campaign to preserve the historic Carnegie library building on South Water Street, if selectmen designate that building for some future library use.

“We’re waiting on direction from the selectmen and the (library) trustees,” the foundation’s public relations advisor, Danielle Pendergraft, told The Times in a phone conversation. “Hopefully they will give us that option, to have a capital campaign for the Carnegie. They may not.”

Ms. Pendergraft said the foundation would canvass its donor base to determine whether donors want to support a capital campaign for the Carnegie building or for the new library planned for the old school site. She said the foundation would completely support either option.

“Capital campaigns are expensive and time-consuming endeavors, and as such, it is premature for ELF to initiate any capital campaign before first seeing what the townspeople want and then canvassing its current donor base to see what they will support,” Ms. Pendergraft wrote in an a follow-up email.

The foundation and library trustees have clashed repeatedly with the library design committee over plans for the new library. The most divisive issue was the decision on where to expand — at the current library on North Water Street or at the site of the old school.

Donation frustration

The foundation also made it clear that its current fundraising efforts, including a wine-tasting event scheduled for Friday, February 4, and a summer brunch scheduled for July 11, will support current library programs, not construction of a new building.

An invitation to last summer’s brunch event includes an explicit statement that money raised would go to the foundation’s annual fund. It says money donated “provides resources for the improvement, expansion and development of programs and services.”

In a statement at a library design committee meeting on Monday, January 31, and in an email to The Times, the foundation said proceeds from tomorrow evening’s $25 per ticket wine-tasting event will go to the annual fund to support current library programs. A poster advertising the event does not mention the annual fund. It says the fundraising event is “an opportunity to support your Edgartown Public Library.”

What precisely is the foundation’s position on current and future fundraising, some members of the library design committee have asked.

“To me, it’s very murky,” committee member Morton Feary said, at a design committee meeting on Monday, January 31. “Are you fundraising for the building or the operating and support? I think there is ambiguity.”

A change of aims

Until Tuesday, the library’s website encouraged donations specifically for the new library, in contradiction to Ms. Smith’s letter and the foundation’s public position. The online appeal included a summary of the design process over the past year, pictures of the new design, and a copy of the grant application submitted to the state. And, it asked directly for donations.

“The Edgartown Library Foundation will be seeking help from private donors to provide for an endowment fund for the new space,” the library web site explained. The site listed a phone number and address for the foundation, to which donors could send money.

Ms. Pendergraft said Tuesday in a phone conversation with The Times, that the appeal was incorrectly posted on the library’s website.

“That needs to be taken off of there,” Ms. Pendergraft said. By late Tuesday afternoon the web page was rewritten to reflect the foundation’s public position.

“Annual Fund donations and capital contributions are always encouraged,” the new web page said.

Foundation funding

The Edgartown Library Foundation is a 501(c)3 corporation, founded in 2005. As a not-for-profit charitable organization, it is exempt from federal income taxes. People who make donations to the foundation can claim the gift as a charitable tax deduction.

Originally the foundation raised funds in a capital campaign for a 17,000-square foot library expansion project at the current North Water Street site. The foundation’s goal was to raise more than $4 million, to match a state grant awarded to the town, but the fundraising effort fell far short. The town scrapped the library plan and was forced to turn back a $4.6 million state grant.

“When all that went by the wayside, they felt like they were a group without a purpose,” Ms. Pendergraft said. At that point, Ms. Pendergraft advised the foundation to focus on other things the members could do to help their community.

“The mission of the foundation goes well beyond bricks and mortar,” Ms. Pendergraft said. “This is not a foundation that is all about a capital campaign.”

Over the past two years, the foundation continued to sponsor fundraising events, but proceeds went to the foundation’s annual fund, not a capital building campaign.

According to Ms. Pendergraft, the foundation has about $400,000 on hand from its previous capital campaign. The foundation has not committed that money to the new plan.

“We can’t commit to anything yet,” Ms. Pendergraft said. “The $400,000 was raised for a specific plan on North Water Street.

“Many pledges above and beyond that have not come in because people don’t understand what’s happening with the project. Now we have an opportunity to go back to them and present options.”

Financial filings

As it does with all organizations like the foundation, the Internal Revenue Service requires financial records to be filed annually. The documents are public, in part so that donors may scrutinize how the foundation accounts for and distributes contributions.

According to those filings, the foundation received $159,738 in contributions, gifts, or grants in 2009, the latest year for which the documents are available. The foundation lists $61,145 in expenses for that period. Of the expenses, the foundation classifies $24,289 expenses for printing, publications, postage, and shipping.

The filing lists $33,500 in professional fees and other payments to independent contractors.

Some part of that amount is for her public relations work, Ms. Pendergraft said.

Ms. Pendergraft declined to say how much the foundation pays her. “I’d rather not say that, but it’s not that much,” Ms. Pendergraft said. “I should not divulge the details of my contract without permission from my client.”

According to the financial filing, the foundation paid out $3,356 in grants during the reporting period. An attachment to the filing states: “$3,356 Grants to Edgartown Library Memorial Fund and librarian benefit to public users of the library.” Since the report for 2009, the foundation has distributed substantially more for library programs and services. For example, according to Ms. Pendergraft, the foundation recently voted $30,000 toward shelving.

Fundraising friction

The fundraising issues were a point of contention at the design committee’s Monday meeting. Committee vice-chairman Carl Watt thanked the library trustees, and library director Felicia Cheney for their efforts in crafting the grant application, but he said he was upset to get a call from the foundation’s paid consultant regarding the foundation’s position on fundraising.

Mr. Watt then declined to recognize foundation board member Anne Vose, who asked to speak. He said he would include the foundation on the agenda for the design committee’s next meeting. At the urging of other design committee members, however, Mr. Watt eventually recognized Ms. Vose.

“The foundation is the arm of the trustees that has been dealing with the new library for six years,” Ms. Vose said. “Now that you’re on to this library, we’re 100 percent behind you and we would like to actively participate. We would like to help you get the word out.”

But, Ms. Vose said, the support does not extend to a financial commitment.

“We can’t do that at this time,” she said. “We’re not able to commit funds at this time, without talking to our contributors first.”

The future use of the Carnegie building and the nearby Capt. Warren House also remain a source of friction. Voters approved the $3.5 million bond purchase of the Warren House at a 2004 special town meeting. The trustees planned to incorporate the Warren House into an expansion at the North Water Street site. But the building proved structurally unsuitable.

The town continues to make payments on the bond, though the building is vacant and deteriorating.

In trying to determine how the design committee should advocate for the new plans, several members questioned how proceeds from the possible sale of the Warren House might reduce the cost of the library to taxpayers.

After subtracting projected grant awards and energy incentives, the design committee estimates $4.6 million of the $11 million total cost must come from some combination of Edgartown taxpayers and private donations.

Selectmen signaled they favor selling the Warren House so proceeds could offset the cost of the new library. But to use proceeds from a sale of the property for the new library, would require a complex financial shift of the town’s debt.

“I think we’re being presumptuous in assuming the Warren property is going to be sold,” design committee member Ann Tyra said at Monday’s meeting. Ms. Tyra is also a library trustee. “There is a possibility of reusing the Warren House and the Carnegie for other town departments. We shouldn’t assume that’s going to be sold. That has to come from the selectmen.”

Design committee member Chris Scott cautioned that voters would expect clear answers to their questions at the April town meeting, when the town asks them to take the first steps toward funding the library.

“I’m wondering — at the April town meeting how much of a neat package the voters are going to be looking for,” Mr. Scott said. “The questions involved are: The Carnegie, are we going to get any private support? The budget, what’s this going to do to the town library budget, is it going to increase the staff, is it going to increase operating expenses? All of these questions are legitimate. I think we need to be somewhat prepared for all of those.”

Mr. Feary said the committee must not only convince the town’s taxpayers that the library plan is a good plan, but that the town needs a new library.

“What I hear, is ‘why do we have to do anything? Just fix up what you’ve got, and not spend $4 million,’” Mr. Feary said.

The design committee is already making presentations to small groups in Edgartown, and is working now to determine how it wants to support the new plan before a wider audience.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:

February 3, 2011 10 am

The invitation to the library foundation’s summer brunch refers to last summer’s event. This summer’s fundraising event is scheduled for July 10.