April 5, 2020

Old Lyme Board of Finance Denies Lyme Academy’s $15K Budget Request, Seeks More Info

File photo of the Chandler Academic Center, which comprises part of the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. The France Foundation now rents 40,000 s.f in the buidling.

OLD LYME — At its regular meeting this past Tuesday (March 24), Old Lyme’s Board of Finance considered a budget request for $15,000 from the Lyme Academy of Fine Arts. The meeting was held in the town hall but most board members called into the meeting, along with member of the press and public, to avoid the dangers of convening in person and spreading the coronavirus.

It soon became clear that board members were facing a problem in determining whether to approve the request because there was minimal supporting information explaining why the Academy needed the funds and how they were going to use them.

Board of Finance Chairman Andy Russell noted that the only documents received by the board were a Balance Sheet and Profit & Loss statement for the Academy, each for a nine-month period. He mentioned that these showed total assets and endowments at $8.6 million with $1.8 million potentially owed to the University of New Haven (UNH).

Finance Director Nicole Stajduhar noted the Academy’s endowment was listed at $7.4 million of which only $1 milion is unrestricted and that, “The $1.8 million note [to UNH] is still there.” although Russell had commented, “There is an idea it may be forgiven if the property is sold outright.” Stajduhar also highlighted that it appeared the Academy’s $800,000 mortgage had been paid off, though it was not clear by whom.

Board member Bennett (BJ) Bernblum opened discussion of the request saying, “There are lots of questions in my view. These numbers don’t show an entity in dire trouble,” and concluding, “I personally am reluctant to make an award at this point.” He added, however, that he would be willing “to reserve the right” to allocate some monies to the Academy at a later date if more information were presented.

Alternate member Judith Read agreed with Bernblum, saying, “There’s not enough information to justify handing out a $15,000 grant to them.”

Old Lyme First Selectman Tim Griswold was more conciliatory towards the Academy reminding the board the institution was no longer a college and its revenue would consequently be impacted by that situation. He noted the Academy was engaged in an ongoing process of developing a strategic plan, which was,”really a road map going forward,” and commented, “The burn rate through their funds must be extensive.”

Griswold mentioned that the Academy had leased part of its property to The France Foundation, but the Academy’s ability to enter into any further leases was restricted by Old Lyme’s Zoning Regulations, which require the Academy only to lease to educational institutions. He also pointed out that the Academy, like other non-profits, “May need an indication of our support,” in order to apply successfully for grants and other funds, but he conceded, “I guess we need to await something more concrete,” from the Academy in terms of supporting information for the request.

Board member Janet Sturges said she had met with Lyme Academy Interim Director Frank Burns and in the interview, he had conveyed, “Lots of promise … lots of hope,” causing Russell to remind the board, “They’re asking for $15,000. We could give them less.”

Bernblum followed up, saying, “One of the concerns is whether they’re staying in business,” but added, “I think it’s politically wrong to deny them. I would rather postpone.”

That compromise was well received but Stajduhar pointed out the board needed to award something at this point to be what Russell later described as “a placeholder.” Member David Kelsey proposed the board should award $1,000 to the Academy for the 2020-21 financial year and Russell emphasized, “There could be an additional amount,” if more information about the request were presented.

The motion was passed unanimously.

 

 

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Comments

  1. Christina and Tom Gotowka says

    We realize that the Town must carefully weigh where and to whom we target our scarce financial resources, but please don’t discount the “intangibles” that institutions like Lyme Academy of Fine Arts contribute to the “look and feel” of our community. Certainly, we want to fully maintain our historic reputation as a prominent contributor to American Arts.
    By itself, $15,000 seems to be only a nominal grant; but we encourage town leadership and the BOF to provide their wisdom and assist the Academy in developing a plan to “stay in business” on that prominent Lyme Street site.

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