This column originally appeared in the April 21, 2016 edition of the Herald Weekly. It’s an election year so it will be interesting to see how many requests for funding come in from external organizations and whether this town board ensures any such funding constitutes a “public purpose.”
[Update: attached below is the external agency funding policy adopted by the Huntersville Town Board in May 2016 after this article was originally published.]
If any readers are inclined to think my purpose in writing is to further my political aspirations, this column should put such notions to rest.
The Huntersville fiscal year 2016-17 budget is currently being prepared, so if you’re a Huntersville resident you still have an opportunity to influence how your tax dollars are spent before the budget is passed in June. You can view budgets going back to 2011-12 [this has since changed, ’14-’15 is the oldest budget available now online] on the town’s website under the finance department page to learn how your tax dollars have been spent in the past. If you do review any recent budgets, you’ll come across a section entitled “Special Appropriations.” [This was actually changed in the ’16-’17 budget after publication of this article. Items formerly under Special Appropriations can now be found under Hotel/Motel/Prepared Food Tax Fund.] The budget describes special appropriations as expenditures to external organizations for public purposes. A better description would be forced charity.
According to the UNC School of Government, the North Carolina Supreme Court has not specifically defined the term “public purpose,” but has decided the issue on a case by case basis. The N.C. Supreme Court uses two principles in determining what constitutes a public purpose: the activity must have a reasonable connection with an appropriate function of local government, and the activity must benefit the public generally as opposed to special interests or individuals.
Town commissioners approved $192,423 for Special Appropriations in last year’s budget without detailing any of the public purposes served. A larger amount was requested from the town but funding was denied to Angels of ’97 and Catawba Presbyterian Church, although Angels of ’97 has received at least $7,000 in the past. The majority of funding, $150,423, went to the Lake Norman Economic Development Corporation. The remaining $42,000 went to four organizations: $22,500 to ASC North; $15,000 to the Ada Jenkins Center; $2,000 to the Olde Huntersville Heritage Society; and $2,500 to Latta Plantation.
The town does require every organization seeking a taxpayer-funded Special Appropriation to fill out a form documenting the organization’s nonprofit status and describing how any funding would benefit the citizens of Huntersville. [See below] This is helpful to those organizations that already know this source of funding exists, but information on how to request a Special Appropriation does not appear anywhere on the town’s website at present [and still doesn’t appear after a search today]. This lack of transparency should be corrected by the current town board if they intend to continue to provide taxpayer funding to external organizations.
[The external agency funding policy below was adopted in May 2016 after this article was originally published.]External agency funding
Why focus on $42,000 out of an operating budget of over $33 million when the money is only going to help local nonprofits? Because every penny spent by government is money that could have been put to a more productive use if left in the private economy. Further, money taken by force and used by government on non-essential functions like charitable giving means less money is available for essential town functions like police, sanitation, or roads and sidewalks. And if you disagree that government takes your money by force, I would encourage you to attempt to opt out of paying your local property or vehicle taxes this year and see how the Town of Huntersville responds.
As the population of Huntersville continues to increase, which will result in more revenues, the list of potential charities seeking taxpayer funding is only going to grow. How will the town board say no this year or in the future to a request from Ada Jenkins, Angels of ’97, the Olde Huntersville Heritage Society or any other organization when funding has been provided in the past? The inability of too many politicians to say no to funding non-essential functions of government is one of the reasons our national debt is over $19 trillion – a number that cannot and will not ever be repaid.
Most of us have little to no control over how Raleigh or Washington spends our money, but we do have some ability to influence how our money is spent locally. Let your town board members know prior to a vote on the budget if you agree that Huntersville should stop funding select charitable organizations and instead direct more money in this year’s budget to more important priorities.