October 11, 2012The City of Greensboro's policy on funding of outside agencies is confusing, and it appears that the confusion obscures the fact that taxpayers are subsidizing the Bryan Foundation, which is worth about $100 million.
At the Thursday, Oct. 5 work session in the plaza level conference room at city hall Greensboro city staff talked with the Greensboro City Council about changes being made to the city's policy to hold outside agencies that receive city funding financially accountable.
According to Greensboro City Manager Denise Turner Roth, the goal is "closing the loop," which has allowed some organizations to receive money from the city for years without having their books audited or even reviewed by the Greensboro Internal Audit Division.
During the discussion Councilmember Nancy Vaughan questioned why the city gives money to organizations via pass-through companies like LLCs, rather than just giving money directly to the organizations that perform the activities the council supports.
A prime example of this is the path money takes from the City of Greensboro to maintain Center City Park. Center City Park is managed by Action Greensboro but maintained by Downtown Greensboro Inc. (DGI). However, the $350,000 the city gives annually for the maintenance of Center City Park is given to Center City Park, LLC, of which Action Greensboro is the sole member.
Of that money $150,000 is appropriated from the Downtown Business Improvement District tax fund, which is administrated by DGI. DGI also maintains Center City Park for Action Greensboro. The $150,000 is allocated for "extraordinary expenses," like repair of the fountains. But it is yearly funding, and any funds left over from such expenses each year are used for normal park expenses.
Councilmember Trudy Wade pointed out that most of Center City Park is owned by the Joseph M. Bryan Foundation. When that claim was disputed by several councilmembers, Wade pointed out that the Bryan Foundation lists Center City Park as an asset on its federal income tax returns.
While Center City Park is managed by Action Greensboro, it is owned by Greensboro Renaissance LLC and CFREMR Real Estate Holding I LLC. Greensboro Renaissance is wholly owned by the Bryan Foundation, and CFREMR Real Estate Holding I is wholly owned by the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro.
The Bryan Foundation has about $100 million in assets, and the Community Foundation of Greater Greensboro has $110 million in assets. So taxpayers of Greensboro are paying to maintain the property of two foundations whose combined wealth is over $200 million.
In response to Wade's questioning of why taxpayer money was being spent on the privately owned Center City Park, Councilmember Zack Matheny pointed out that it wasn't in the interest of the city to own Center City Park, because of the expenses associated with it, and he questioned whether or not Wade believed in "public-private partnerships."
"I'd rather whoever owns it just keep it up," said Wade.
During the work session Councilmembers also heard a presentation from DGI that touted the organization's contributions to downtown development and asked for continued financial support from the city.
Mayor Robbie Perkins asked DGI President Ed Wolverton what he would do for downtown if he had a "magic wand" and didn't have to worry about money.
Wolverton immediately answered that the Greensboro performing arts center (GPAC), which has been Perkin's pet project, would be the first thing he would conjure up downtown, followed by street and infrastructure improvements.
Throughout the discussion Perkins advocated spending money on infrastructure improvements to make downtown Greensboro more attractive to business and development.
Wade questioned the source of the money that Perkins wanted to spend. "Are we waving a magic wand, King Robert, or are we going to pay for it?" she asked. Wade went on to say that there are other parts of the city that could benefit from development, and that the council didn't need to just pour money downtown.
Councilmembers also reviewed the city's curb and gutter assessment policy, which in the past has required residents to pay a portion of the cost of the curbs and gutters that the city chooses to install along their properties.
The issue had come up at the Sept. 4 City Council meeting, when the council was asked to approve the assessment rolls for properties along Stanley Road, Hilltop Road and Franklin Boulevard.
At the work session the council reached a general consensus to stop charging assessments going forward, since sidewalks, curbs and gutters were for the general public good rather than the good of the individual properties they abut.