Edgartown selectmen, library foundation at odds over donations

Architect's drawing of new Edgartown Free Public Library. — Photo courtesy of Town of Edgartown

Updated 2 pm, Wednesday

Edgartown selectmen will continue their discussion of the role of the Edgartown Library Foundation when they meet next Monday, May 6. It will follow up on a testy session Monday, April 29, when selectmen were sharply critical of the foundation for not forwarding its donations to the library project.

Among the issues up for discussion next week is whether the private foundation should continue raising money in the name of the public library, selectman Michael Donaroma told The Times.

“I may suggest that we give it to town counsel and get an accounting of what funds they have,” Mr. Donaroma said in a phone conversation Wednesday. “It’s time to look into this.”

The foundation has pledged $175,000 it raised from private donors for the town’s new library project, but foundation officers say they are holding the money until they have assurances that the project will go forward.

According to its latest filing with the Internal Revenue Service, the private foundation had a balance of $462,809 in net assets or fund balances on December 31, 2011.

Testy meeting

Selectmen clashed with members of the foundation over library donations at the selectmen’s Monday meeting. Mr. Donaroma, who also chairs the town’s library building committee, asked why the foundation has not yet transferred private donations to the new library project. The town is about to begin construction on a new public library at the site of the Old Edgartown School.

“You’ve been having fundraisers, you’ve raised X number of dollars,” Mr. Donaroma said. “The numbers have been going up and down and around. We’re trying to build a new library now. We’re trying to figure in our budget what you have. We’d like to know exactly what you have and when we can get it. We can’t seem to get that answer.”

“We’ve pledged $175,000, and we have every intention of doing that,” library foundation president Susan Cahoon said. “There was no date when it was to be turned over.”

Mr. Donaroma pressed for a date, and an explanation of any conditions on the donations.

“There are a couple of conditions left to be met,” Ms. Cahoon said. “Part of the question we had is the status of the project.”

Mr. Donaroma responded forcefully.

“I don’t know why anybody gives you any money at all,” he said. “I wouldn’t give you a dime. It’s absurd. Condition on top of condition on top of condition. Smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors, smoke and mirrors.”

Members of the library foundation said they are concerned that financing for the new library project is not complete and that bids for construction could come in higher than anticipated.

Mr. Donaroma said financing is in place and the library is on budget and on schedule.

Name game

Naming rights for the new library have been a source of contention between the foundation and the town. The foundation drafted a plan to offer naming rights for specific rooms or areas of the new library. The library board of trustees approved the plan, and presented it to selectmen at a June 2012 meeting. Selectmen rejected the plan.

Library foundation members say they could raise a substantial sum if they can offer donors naming rights.

“If we’re talking about trust and commitment and a reciprocal arrangement, I come back to the naming opportunities,” library donor Courtney Brady said Monday. ” I think there would be a lot more money released.”

Selectmen remained firm in their opposition to naming rights for the library, which they say is fully funded with taxpayer appropriations and matching state grants.

“Every taxpayer is involved,” Mr. Donaroma said. “Everyone who pays taxes is credited for building that new library. When you offer a special opportunity to put somebody’s name on a plaque, we start ending up with names on a building that taxpayers paid for.”

“It almost sounds like the foundation is more of a hindrance at this point, than helping the library move forward,” selectman Margaret Serpa said.

Public and private

Selectman Art Smadbeck raised the issue of fundraising in the name of the town’s new public library.

“Part of the frustration has been the foundation would come in and say they raised $600,000, and the money never seems to get to the library,” Mr. Smadbeck said. “There ought to be a little more cooperation. The $175,000 represents more than a symbol. It’s money that was raised in the name of the Edgartown Library.”

In a follow-up phone interview Wednesday, Ms. Cahoon said the foundation has provided funds to the library regularly. “I guess I can understand their point, but it isn’t as though we haven’t provided a fair amount to the library at this point,” she said.

She said the foundation donated $273,000 toward design and planning expenses for a project to expand the North Water Street location, a project that was eventually scrapped when the foundation fell far short of its fundraising goals.

She said the foundation donated $5,000 for printing and other expenses to the library building committee for materials to build support for the project prior to the 2012 annual town meeting, and that it continues to donate materials and services to the library for use at the current location.

Financial report

As a nonprofit fundraising organization, the Edgartown Library Foundation is required to file a tax return to verify that it qualifies for a tax exemption. In its latest filing, for the calendar year 2011, the foundation reported $94,485 in gross income from fundraising events, and $6,828 in contributions, gifts, and grants for the year.

Also reported is $53,702 in direct expenses from fundraising events and $22,140 paid to independent contractors.

After subtracting expenses, the foundation reported $25,449 in net income for 2011.