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Nonprofits will pay for food permits
Oct 28, 2009; Yakima Herald-Republic | We covered a story a few weeks ago about the exorbitant licensing fee increases to be newly levied on child care centers in Arizona. Now from Yakima, Washington, comes this little story about a nonprofit fee exemption for food service booths at public gatherings being eliminated. While the fee of $54 may seem like small potatoes to many, Barbara Harrar, a member of the health district board implementing the changes anticipates that “all heck will break loose” about the decision among very small community groups who might make a few hundred dollars on such booths. To her credit she seems to understand the impact on these small but important groups (these booths can be a critical fundraising strategy for some) but an eroding tax base makes things tight and charging the fee will bring in an estimated $10,000. It is important as we watch the current nonprofit economy change to recognize all of the budget impacts on local nonprofits.—Ruth McCambridge

Death by a thousand cuts
Oct 29, 2009; MinnPost | New fees are creeping up in Minnesota too. The city of Minneapolis hopes to generate about $155,000 next year from 1,600 nonprofits. They plan to raise the money by charging an average $96 assessment for each “nongovernmental tax exempt parcel.” The nonprofits—which are not required to pay property taxes on their land and buildings—say that they are “increasingly being hit with fees and assessments to pay for elevator inspections, waste water, fire inspections and other local government functions.” Oh and government buildings are not assessed these fees. I suppose this is the thanks you get for providing services, free of charge, that the government would otherwise be saddled with all these years.—Aaron Lester

Baltimore panel blocks company’s payment to the City Foundation
Oct 29, 2009;
Baltimore Sun | Now that the Baltimore City Foundation has been exposed as a behind-the-scenes fund controlled by local politicians without transparency or oversight, Baltimore officials are reviving Captain Renault’s “I’m shocked, shocked” persona from “Casablanca.” Facing a trial on November 9th on charges that she spent gift cards on herself intended for needy families, Mayor Sheila Dixon has pronounced the exposes of the politician-controlled charity as “an opportunity to be aggressive in reviewing the current structure and operations.” The City Comptroller announced that a $50,000 legal settlement with a company that had violated minority- and women-hiring requirements should be deposited with the City government rather than the foundation (which could give the corporate malefactor a charitable deduction for the 50 grand) and has asked for five years of independent audits of the fund (though the Board of Estimate, controlled by the Mayor, hasn’t responded to that idea. The Foundation’s ED and some members of the Foundation board, however, expressed an unusual version of nonprofit self-governance, that it’s not up to him or the Foundation’s board to determine if the money it spends are consistent with its nonprofit corporate status. Rather, it would be the responsibility of the city agencies receiving and spending the money. So, according to this nonsensical idea, once the Foundation gave the Mayor’s office money in 2007 that the Mayor spent on Christmas cards and her inauguration costs, the Foundation’s responsibility for ensuring that the money would be spent appropriately ceased. City officials and the one foundation staff person (the former director of the City’s anti-poverty agency) also applauded the insanely low overhead costs of the Foundation (the ED makes a salary of less than $20,000). One city department director said, “Every time you deal with a nonprofit, they want to take part of the money. Nonprofits want to take 15 percent. With the Baltimore City Foundation, you don’t have the bureaucracy.” Despite the Mayor’s sudden awakening to the need for a review of this secretive political foundation, she found the opportunity to blame the Baltimore Sun for having exposed her little slush fund, charging that “the Sunpapers [sic] and pull anything out to try to discredit my character. Period. I’m not going to comment any more than that.” That’s a great political default position: it has to be the press, the timing (no matter when it comes) is wrong, and it’s all part of a journalistic frenzy of character assassination. To be fair to the soon-to-be tried Mayor Dixon, her predecessors Schmoke and O’Malley also used the Foundation’s cash for their Christmas cards and probably tapped it for other politically useful activities as well. But now, as the Sun notes, the Foundation is no more than a slush fund to “advance [the Mayor’s] political fortunes. At NPQ, we’ve written about politically-controlled charities many times, but to no avail. The Baltimore City Foundation belongs to the family containing Tom DeLay’s DeLay Foundation, Rick Santorum’s Operation Good Neighbor, and plenty more. It’s time for these political slush funds hiding behind the nomenclature of public charities and foundations to be put out of business.—Rick Cohen



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