Where Will Our $100,000 Go

Where Will Our $100,000 Go?
By Liz Oliphant

What do you think about the Town giving $100,000 of your tax money to an organization that has a less than stellar record of results?

Before you pop a blood vessel or speed dial your council members, take a minute to think about this and be assured of two things: (1) the council has not approved the expenditure – yet and (2) the city manager will work for full disclosure with appropriate documentation before Town funds leave the checking account.

What are we talking about? Giving the Addison Legacy Foundation $100,000 to pursue the Town’s Next Big Idea – a bridge/park over the Tollway. The organization presented the concept to the Council at a work session on August 15 and it was warmly received by several council members. As it was explained, this $100,000 would cover a schematic design, cost estimates, economic impact study and a report to council and take about six months.

But there’s already a design, complete with three dimensional model, though only council members were allowed to examine it. All the workshop audience saw was a brief flash on the screen during the presentation. According to their report, the group has spent 1 ½ years on the project with over 200 hours of volunteer work, including that of the design consultant. But there was mention of $16,000 owed to a consultant, so it’s a bit hard to understand who has volunteered what services.

This is hardly a new idea, either. It was explored by the Town back in the 90’s (via staff-supervised, outside consultants) and determined to have multiple challenges that made it unworkable without great expense to the Town and protracted negotiations with property owners, utility companies, NTTA and the City of Dallas.

The real issue is this. We don’t need to pay money via the Addison Legacy Foundation for this type of consulting work.  Town staff can pursue this project – as they did before – with no need of the Addison Legacy Foundation.  The Foundation claims they can get services donated and raise money to make this a reality but their results, to date, don’t demonstrate much of a track record in producing successful projects.

The Legacy Foundation website lists three fundraising efforts:

  1. Repairing an antique fire truck – Goal – $60,000, Raised – $2,000 (3 donors), Results – no work on truck in four years of efforts, Funds Expended – Unknown
  2. Pets and people water fountains for Addison parks and trails – Goal – None Stated, Raised – 16 donors plus several corporations are listed but no amounts shown Results – 3 fountains installed of 7 planned, Funds Expended – Unknown.
  3. Spruill Dog Park – Goal $150,000 Raised– $40,000 (1 donor – Post Properties) Results – Foundation has requested $112,000 from Town funds in 2016-17 budget to complete park (total cost $152,000) Funds Expended – Unknown

And therein lies the problem – the mayor’s favorite word – transparency. There is none where the Legacy Foundation is concerned. It is a designated fund of Communities Foundation of Texas, Inc. The Addison Legacy Foundation does not file a separate IRS 990 form, required of nonprofit organizations, so prospective donors and the public do not see how the organization spends the tax deductible funds it receives. No responsible donor gives large amounts of money unless they can be assured that funds are expended to meet the mission of the organization. It goes without saying that the Addison City Manager would, contractually, require documentation to see how funds are being spent to protect taxpayer interests.

The success of Klyde Warren Park was used as an example of how funding might work. But the Legacy Foundation representatives neglected to mention significant details of Klyde Warren Park’s funding sources that are unavailable to Addison – substantial state and federal highway funds, City of Dallas bond money plus $110 million of private money. Addison has neither the political clout to get state and federal money (plus the construction guidelines have changed) nor is there an individual on the horizon capable of raising necessary private funds.

And then there’s the trust factor. Many Addison residents feel the Addison Legacy Foundation is simply a plaything of the mayor and his cronies which is why donations immediately dried up after the dog fountains project several years ago. Post Properties gift of $40,000 to the dog park smacks of self-interest since it is cheaper to make a tax deductible donation than to provide this service for their residents (and the Town is now being asked to pay for the rest of the dog park construction!). In order to increase credibility for the Addison Legacy Foundation and to obtain a 501(c)3 designation without going through the IRS determination process (which requires public reporting), a few months ago the mayor made overtures to the Addison Arbor Foundation, seeking to merge the two groups.  The merger was firmly rebuffed by the Arbor Foundation board.

The question remains, however, why does the Town need to go through the Addison Legacy Foundation to accomplish this project if they choose to do so? There doesn’t seem to be a good answer.