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Our Opinion: County channels tax dollars to charities

News Tribune editorial

Can two rights make a wrong?

The question arises in connection with a local government channeling tax dollars to charity.

The Cole County Commission recently approved agreements to provide funds to ABLE Learning Center, the Senior Nutrition Center and Habitat for Humanity.

Let us be clear. These three nonprofit agencies and others provide valuable services in our community.

In addition, the county provides money not as a donation, which is prohibited, but through a contract.

Cole County Presiding Commissioner Marc Ellinger said a provision in state law allows the county to contract for services that benefit the general welfare.

But, it somehow seems inappropriate for county government to channel mandatory taxes to specific charities. It’s tantamount to government deciding for its residents which charities to support.

Ellinger said any agency may ask to make a presentation to the three-member commission, which makes the decisions.

He said scheduled presenters include the Cole County Historical Society, the Downtown Association and Jefferson City’s Convention and Visitors Bureau, which also operates on tax dollars.

Why every potential recipient hasn’t beaten a path to the commission’s door is a mystery to us, but — apparently — that has not happened.

Ellinger also said the commission reviews the contracts during budget time. He said county government now has contracts with between eight and 10 agencies at a cost last year between $50,000-$60,000. Agencies have not been the only recipients. Ellinger said the county also has contracted with an event, Art in the Park, in the past.

A sample “agreement” reads: “1. The County will provide $10,000 to Senior Nutrition. 2. Senior Nutrition will provide meals and activities for Cole County senior citizens.”

With some exceptions, most agreements do not require additional or specific services beyond what the agency routinely provides.

The case can be made that the county is helping finance worthwhile services for its residents.

A counter argument is individual residents should decide what charities to support, and government is usurping that role.

We are uncomfortable with government channeling mandatory tax dollars to select charities.

The county must honor existing contracts, but — as contracts expire — we encourage the commission to withdraw from this practice.

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