Arlington cashes in on gas lease money

Posted Thursday, Mar. 21, 2013  comments  Print Reprints

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ARLINGTON -- Since its creation five years ago, the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation has awarded 262 grants totaling $7.7 million, helping fund projects ranging from new city sidewalks to food, transportation and home repairs for the poor,.

The Arlington City Council created the foundation in 2007 to invest and manage a significant portion of the revenue from natural gas leases on public property. The endowment uses interest earnings off its invested assets, which has grown over the past five years from $26 million to $86 million, to issue grants to city departments and charitable organizations for projects and services that benefit Arlington residents.

"There is no doubt in the first five years we were able to accomplish a lot. The City Council's vision has certainly come to fruition," said Carolyn Mentesana, the Arlington Tomorrow Foundation's executive director.

The foundation receives 90 percent of the city's one-time lease bonus money and 50 percent of royalties. The rest of the lease bonus money and royalties goes to the city's general fund.

Recent changes include adopting a year-round application process, removing caps on grant amounts that previously ranged from $15,000 to $100,000 and no longer requiring applicants that have received two consecutive years of funding to wait two years before applying again.

Since October, the foundation has awarded a little over one-third of the $1.5 million in grant funding it has available this fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. It is expected that $400,000 to $500,000 of those funds will go toward Parks and Recreation Department projects, Mentasana said.

This year's recipients include the First United Methodist Church of Arlington, which received one of the foundation's largest grants in the past five years. The downtown church plans to make changes to North Street and along Center Street that are designed to improve pedestrian safety and provide handicap-accessible parking.

The foundation awarded $25,000 directly toward that project and has pledged another $200,000 if the church can match the gift dollar-for-dollar, she said.

"It will really bring that whole area up and tie it up into the feel and look of downtown," said Mentesana, saying the project will complement the existing Center Street pedestrian trail. "It reinforces that the church is there to stay."

Some community service projects are on a much smaller scale but just as important, she said.

The Arlington Kiwanis Foundation received a $5,000 grant to help support its "Diaper Bag Project" for the next two years. Kiwanis members provide diaper bags filled with supplies and a written note of support to mothers with young children who are staying at the SafeHaven of Tarrant County's Arlington shelter.

"For a parent who is leaving an awful situation, what a gift to get a diaper bag and formula from someone who doesn't even know you," Mentesana said.

The foundation also has a new $5 million reserve fund -- created from capital gains -- that board members have set aside to one day support a large-scale project with "deep impact," she said.

Mentasana said she admires city leaders for having the "foresight and discipline and vision" to create the foundation and invest Arlington's natural gas lease windfall so that it can benefit future generations.

"This is a gift to the city. It is working for the people of the community in very, very visible ways, from Light Up Arlington to delivering Meals on Wheels every day," Mentesana said. "It's very important work that is being done and we are really pleased to be able to provide the money to make these programs possible."

Susan Schrock, 817-709-7578


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