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Idaho Falls City Council to decide residents' charitable contributions

Idaho Falls City Council to decide residents' charitable contributions

Lindsay Russell Dexter
November 7, 2016

During its October working session, the Idaho Falls City Council recommended the city pay $181, 000 dollars of taxpayer money to fund local charities.

“The Idaho Falls City Council has the power to set the budget,” wrote Mayor Rebecca Casper in a recent Facebook post. Her statement was a non-response to a question about recent city council budget recommendations, which included appropriating taxpayer dollars to 12 charitable organizations.

The mayor is correct, about the council setting the budget. She ignored,though, a most important question about how the council should use its budgetary power: Is it proper to use taxpayer dollars to fund private organizations?

I contend it is not. I also submit that there are plenty of other sources that give to charitable organizations, which give money that is voluntarily raised or earned -- as opposed to giving away  money that is taken from taxpayers. In this instance, there is one source alone that could have covered $158,000 of the $181,000 the city council appropriated.

In an Oct. 31 Post Register article, the editor and publisher touted that the newspaper is making changes. Among the changes proposed by the new owners, they plan to distribute the balance of private money from old accounts into a fund that organizations can apply for. The Goodfellow Fund, which currently holds $158,000, was specifically mentioned. The newspaper is adamant about contributing leftover funds to community groups in Eastern Idaho, a commendable use of the private dollars.

In an effort to spend the $158,000 the Post Register will develop an application process for charitable organizations. One important difference about the money to be distributed from the Goodfellow Fund: The money will not be taxpayer dollars. Conversely, the city council intends to allocate $181,000 of taxpayer dollars to charitable organizations, which could just as well apply for private money that’s to be awarded by the Goodfellow Fund, as well apply for funding from other grant-making foundations.

However unlikely, it is plausible that the Goodfellow Fund could pay for 87 percent of the sum the council has determined should be fronted by Idaho Falls taxpayers.

This would be beneficial because the Post Register has the opportunity of determining which charities are worthy of the private support. Sadly, Casper and the council won’t allow that for Idaho Falls taxpayers.

In the same Facebook post cited above, Mayor Casper wrote that the Museum of Idaho raises property values. That may be true. However, I have been unable to obtain any documentation that prove that claim.

Additionally, I been unable to obtain any documentation on exactly where and how  the museum spends city money. However, what I can say with certainty is, any Idaho Falls resident can choose to buy a membership or donate to the museum directly.

Casper and the council would be wise to leave it at that.

The decision of the Idaho Falls City Council to allocate $181,000 dollars to several charitable organizations comes only weeks after the council decided to raise city fees by more than 150 percent in some cases.  For example, the council raised parking tickets issued in its downtown from $5 to $20.

The $181,000 the city proposes to allocate to 12 charitable organizations remains a working proposal initially dreamed up at the council’s October working session. That work session, and all sessions, are open to the public, but only as listening bystanders.  

The city council will vote to approve the expensive give to the local non-profits at its Nov. 10 meeting. I encourage all residents of Idaho Falls to attend the city council meeting or call their councilperson to express their concerns.

Please note, if you attend the city council meeting, there is no discussion between those  who testify and the council. During council meetings, citizens may not ask questions and council members provide no discourse, they simply listen. Therefore, I suggest that Idaho Falls residents call their councilperson in addition to attending the meeting. For council members and mayor contact information, click here.

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