A fundraising group charged with raising $625,000 for the replacement of the Bridge Lane Ravine Footbridge went before the Village Board Monday night requesting $45,450 in start-up money to pay for a fundraising consultant.
At a meeting attended by a dozen residents, the Fox Point Village Board instead decided to limit the initial seed money to $30,000, with the option of providing more money in the future. Trustees also required the group reimburse the money to the village.
The fundraising group, Footbridge Friends, Inc., was recently incorporated with $1,500 in assistance from the village. The group to raise $625,000 in donations, which is roughly half of the cost of construction a new bridge — not including the estimated $250,000 cost of removing the old bridge.
The Village Board gave Footbridge Friends a Jan. 31, 2013 deadline to raise their portion of the funds for the project. The special meeting was held to see if trustees would pay for a professional fundraiser, In Progress Consulting, before the Friends hired the firm for the project.
The Village Board agreed to pay $30,000 for the first two phases of the seven-month fundraising effort, leaving Footbridge Friends to pay the remaining $15,450 for the third phase of the campaign.
Barbara Schwartz, the president of Footbridge Friends, said the group has zero funds right now, so it doesn't have a guaranteed income source to pay the consultant in advance.
"We need some money to start this process, to aid in what may normally be — in some periods of time — a capital project that might have been undertaken by the village completely," she said.
Schwartz said it is the group's intention to pay the village back for the start-up funds, and she was not pleased when trustees started talking about limiting funds or formally requiring them to pay back the start-up funds.
"It just seems like we are getting our hands tied as we continue to proceed here," she said.
The Brysons and the Connellys, two families that directly neighbor the bridge and originally supported its restoration, oppose the bridge replacement proposal. James Connelly said replacing the bridge is more expensive and more damaging to the environment than restoring the bridge, and he opposed the village funding the friends group.
"What the village is doing is funding the friends group," he said. "If you can't get someone, one person, to start this and kick off your campaign, I think you have a big problem in raising $625,000."
Schwartz said the group intends to pay the money back. Trustee Eric Fonstad made a motion requiring the group to pay the money back, because the project is a contentious one in the community.
"We have a lot of people who've said we've lived here for years and years and never knew there was a bridge," he said.
Fonstad's motion passed, although trustees acknolwedged the group could fail in its fundraising effort and could leave the village holding the bag.
After more than two hours of discussion, the board voted 4-1 in favor of the funding, with Trustee Bill Warner casting the sole opposing vote. Trustee Beverly Bell was absent, and Christine Symchych excused herself halfway through the meeting.
Larry Booth, a resident who has long opposed the footbridge project, said he believes the board is being disingenuous in claiming $625,000 will pay for half of the project, as village engineers have previously tagged the project in the $1.4 million to $1.7 million range.
"You just approved spending public money acknowledging there is a good chance you may not get that money back. That, sir, is irresponsible as hell," Booth said to Village President Michael West. "You guys bandy around public money like you're a bunch of sailors at a strip joint."
The footbridge was first , and numerous consultants have weighed in on the potential cost of the bridge over the past two years.
The current consultant Ayers and Associate was in April to create a bridge replacement plan, opting not to restore the bridge as some neighbors wanted. They awarded the contractor in May.
Ayers plans to complete construction bid documents by Dec. 21, so the village can open the project for bids Feb. 1.