By Richard Sullins | firstname.lastname@example.org
A $500,000 grant made by Lee County’s Board of Commissioners on November 14 to an organization affiliated with a local church will be delayed for an unknown length of time because the group – the Life Springs Action Team, Inc. – has not yet been approved by the IRS as a tax-exempt entity.
Lee County Manager Dr. John Crumpton told The Rant after Monday afternoon’s meeting of the commissioners that “it could be a matter of a few weeks or a few months. Nothing can happen until that is approved. But once it does happen, we will come back to the commissioners and seek their approval of a contractual agreement.”
Commissioners had been set to vote on a contract for the grant money at Monday’s meeting. That vote did not take place.
An IRS designation as an approved 501(c)(3) entity allows an organization to be exempt from payment of corporate taxes. But more importantly, it qualifies the group as a charity that makes it eligible to apply for, and receive, grants and to declare that contributions it receives are tax deductible by the donor, with some restrictions.
The IRS typically approves applications for 501(c)(3) status within a four to six month period. But most agencies of government are still recovering from backlogs of work that piled up during the COVID-19 pandemic and are still awaiting processing because staffing remains an issue in many departments.
The award made by the commissioners is a part of the county’s $12 million allotment from COVID relief dollars that were authorized by Congress, signed into law by the president, and paid from taxpayer funds held in trust by the U.S. Treasury. County commissioners have been making use of these very same COVID dollars to address critical issues that were exacerbated by the pandemic.
Mental illness was determined to be one of the critical challenges facing Lee County as the community and the local economy continue to recover, and the commissioners had set aside $1.5 million to address mental and emotional concerns. The $500,000 award by the commissioners for the Life Springs Dream Center represents about one-third of the amount they had reserved for mental health issues.
Commission’s cash leaves project still $834,000 short
It was just 15 days after their success with the county that Life Springs Pastor Rev. Dale Sauls and Rev. Daniel Owens, also a pastor at Life Springs and the director of the Dream Center project, moved on to another unit of Lee County government: the Sanford City Council.
The council had a handful of items to discuss in closed session as they met for a special-called workshop meeting on November 29, but the only open session item on the agenda was to “consider an update from Life Springs Church.” When it came their time to speak, the two pastors said that they had not come to ask for money, but Sauls added that “we’re at a stage where we feel like for us to do this on the level that has been done in other communities, and now since the separate 501(c)(3), we’ve never asked for the community to fund it. It’s all been funded by Life Springs Church.”
“We’re at a place now where we’re gonna need help to really go with the level of excellence and do the things that we have the vision to do,” he continued. “None of that goes back to the church at all. It is simply to be able to help the community, and so we’re just wanting you guys to be in the loop as we figure it out. And if you think it would be a blessing, if you think we could serve, if you think we could do that, then help us take it to the next level.”
The 12-page proposal the Life Springs Action Team submitted to the county estimates their budget for implementing the project over the next three years will cost approximately $1,334,400. The award of $500,000 from the county represents about 37 percent of that amount, leaving Life Springs with the need to raise another $834,400 (or 63 percent) before the Dream Center project can be fully funded.
Like the county, the city also received COVID relief dollars, as well as others that are being allocated from the multi-state opioid settlement. And again, just like the county, the city identified mental health and drug abuse concerns as being near the top of its list of priorities to be addressed through these allotments that come along once or twice in a generation.
The biggest-ticket item in Life Springs’ proposed budget is $800,000 for a building to house the program. The budget detail doesn’t specify whether this would be a purchase or a rental of an existing facility, but it does contain one interesting bit of information – that they “would like to be located in Downtown Sanford.”
That’s important, because were it not for the efforts of Pastor Sauls, the ordinance adopted in 1999 that prohibited religious complexes from locating in the central business district of downtown would also have barred an organization like the Dream Center.
Getting that law removed from the city’s book of ordinances this past October opened the door to make this project legally eligible to be located somewhere in the nine blocks that make up the central business district. And if an organization had $800,000 in cash ready to either lease a facility or purchase it outright, it would surely have no competitors for the space.
The county cannot write a check to the Life Springs Action Team for the $500,000 it has promised until the IRS gives final approval to their application for approval as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. That could come in a matter of days, or it could take months.
Voting to give half a million dollars without debate or safeguards or vetting to a group that is so unestablished that it doesn’t even have its tax status sorted…. That money is clearly just going straight into someone’s pocket. If there wasn’t anything bad happening, then the people pushing it wouldn’t be so afraid of oversight.
Wow, what a shocker!
I am reminded of the days of Jim Womack, County Commissioner, during which it was routine to haul in Executive Directors of nonprofits the county gave money to, demanding an accounting of every line of their budgets. And, locally, isn’t this the party of audits? When Democrats control the school board and Republicans control the commission, oh, how they loved their audits. Proper stewardship of the county’s money, right?
Republicans (and, after protesting, a few Democrats) handed Life Springs Church the largest amount of money ever given to a nonprofit by the commission. They did this without public comment and without doing the due diligence normally required, even when the donation amount was a tiny fraction of a half-million dollars. And now, turns out, the c3 paperwork on Life Springs Church’s Dream Center wasn’t complete.
What else did they miss?
They should call an emergency meeting. Repeal the measure. Resolve to be willing to hear the request again, only this time, to do the due diligence, including allowing public comment.
Don’t look for them to do this, though. Local Republicans couldn’t give a rip about the rule of law, and they will tolerate enormous breaches of ethics when it comes to their own power. Trust what they say, you know, what signage they put in the window of their gaudy, gift-shop headquarters.
Watch what they do.
You quoting Jim Womack the crook early in your initial statement made me (and others likely) automatically disagree with anything in your statement.
Anything that has to do with Jim Womack or his chesty troll wife on our school board is damned from the jump of anything successful. They are full of chaos and drama in every aspect of what they do.
It’s called context. Republicans demand accountability from the heads of these nonprofits, and spearhead these audits, but when it comes to their own priorities (in this case, rewarding a church that’s done so much for them recently), there’s exactly zero accountability.
And, you might despise the Womacks, but they are both in power! He’s the head of the local Republican Party, and she (by many accounts) wants to be the freaking Lieutenant Governor! Oppose them, please, but ignore them at your peril.
This deal shows an outrageous disregard for public accountability by Sanford politicians.
I think it’s a scam- ooh we don’t have 501c(3) approval yet so we’d sure like to get some money while we wait!
And why would the city want to fund a religious organization for a public mental health facility in the first place???? Mental health plus religion equals another brainwashing opportunity to prey on ill people in my opinion.
Oh the horror of it all!
Sanford politicians? This is the Republican-controlled Lee County Board of Commissioners. Don’t put this on Sanford, please.
To the rest of your point, couldn’t agree more.
Sorry – yes I knew that of course, that was an unfortunate “senior moment”!
Put together and connect the following:
Republican candidates for school board and county commission swept all races.
Immediately following the outcome of the election, Rev. Dale Sauls appears before the county commissioners requesting $500,000 from ARPA funds.
Commissioner Bill Carver, while at the commissioner meeting, is heard thanking Rev. Sauls for the 1000 volunteers from Life Springs Church. “We got everything we wanted” says Commissioner Carver.
Members of Life Springs Church, Commissioners Carver and Lavelle do not recuse themselves from the vote.
After refusing to table the matter in order to collect more information AND to wait until the 501(c)3 status has been approved, a vote is taken and the end result is that 5 ordinary citizens, and NOT a 501(c)3 have been awarded $500,000.
That comes to $500 in payment to each church volunteer for their work and their vote. Considering this lack of integrity and public input, I would like my $500 returned to the county.
Exactly. This is what corruption looks like. If this weren’t a church, but a company receiving a contract with two employees on the Board, the SBI would be investigating.
Oooops, maybe, just maybe, they would have known this information if they actually allowed the commissioners to do some research on the proposal.
If who allowed the commissioners? The Republican commissioners pushed through the vote to NOT do any due diligence.
That’s my point. I assumed those reading the article understood that. My fault, I shouldn’t assume people know how things developed.
So did they put down on the application to the county that they were tax exempt when they were not yet or did they just withhold that information? This does not look good already.
Are the donations already made to the Dream Center not tax deductible now?
I assume they are not tax deductible now, if they haven’t received their 301c(3) Nonprofit designation approval yet.
I wonder how many local established faith-based non-profits were turned away and not given money.
This makes me wonder if the Commissioners were also snookered about the real cost of the Multi-Sports Complex project. I get it that prices go up. But to jump from $25 million to $70 million in a few months time?