City 'in a bind' over Brick Capital

Sanford council mulls options for keeping nonprofit afloat
Jul. 31, 2014 @ 06:23 PM

The Sanford City Council has come to the conclusion that there are no easy answers to Brick Capital Community Development Corporation's financial woes.

The council held a work session Wednesday evening to discuss the possibility of city aid, financial or otherwise, to the struggling nonprofit.

"We're in a bind," said Councilman Sam Gaskins. "And until we can find out what they really need and assess how we can help without spending money, it's going to be difficult."

The council already has provided Brick Capital with $7,500 to help fund an assessment of Brick Capital's financial data, and Gaskins said it would be best to wait five or six weeks for the results of the assessment to come in before taking any action.

In the meantime, Brick Capital is looking into a number of options to generate short-term funding, the most promising of which is thinning out trees on its Washington Avenue property and selling the wood for timber.

"We're supposed to generate between $20,000 and $30,000 [from the sale of the timber]," said Kate Rumely, executive director of Brick Capital. "We're going to do select cutting. We're not going to do clear cutting. It would be an awful sight to cut down all those trees, even if we were going to put houses there."

Gaskins also suggested that Brick Capital return a number of properties to the city. He said the city had given the nonprofit a number of plots that it wasn't using, and that the taxes Brick Capital was paying were an unnecessary financial drain on the organization.

"It probably would have been better to give them property as they needed it," Gaskins said. "Now, they are paying property tax on empty lots. If we took the properties back, it would alleviate them of that particular problem."

Rumely outlined the need for making a number of lots available as options for people looking to build homes, but she identified three properties around the city she would be willing to let the city have.

Rumely made it clear that the nonprofit's financial issues stemmed from organizational costs, and that property taxes constitute a minimal portion of its expenses.

Karen Kennedy, Sanford community development manager, said she was unsure what measures would be necessary to stabilize Brick Capital, but she told the council during its meeting Wednesday that the nonprofit occupied an important gap in housing development that no other organization filled.

"Brick Capital does new construction," Kennedy said. "That is truly the difference. They also have the expertise to do multi-layered financial deals where they pull in resources from different places and pool them into one project. ... The city doesn't do that."

Kennedy warned that if Brick Capital went under, its purpose would remain and another organization would have to take on its role.

"I just see such value in [Brick Capital] for the community," Kennedy said. "And I just hate to see it go away. I think, if it goes away, there is a certain sector of [Sanford's] population whose needs will still have to be addressed."

Sanford Mayor Chet Mann agreed that action was necessary to help Brick Capital but was uncertain what that action would look like.

"We have to find a way to help you sustain yourselves while we help you find a better model," Mann said.

He listed the proposed measures — thinning out trees and considering returning certain properties to the city — as good opportunities for the organization to generate short-term funding.

Councilman Charles Taylor had a number of questions and concerns about the feasibility of providing the nonprofit with additional funding. He said he believes cutting back on projects and operations is the way to go, and that to provide the nonprofit with the $200,000 requested would be "throwing good money after bad."

"You've grown significantly over the years," Taylor said of the nonprofit. "But you have to get back to core of what made you a viable business to begin with. ... You prune a rose bush so it'll produce better-looking flowers and be healthier."

But Taylor agreed that the best option would be to wait for the results of the financial assessment and move from there.

"I like the mayor's suggestion of cutting timber," Taylor said, "selling it, trying to sell a property or two, getting the assessment and seeing what it is."