BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – An error by North Lee County Historical Society has Fort Madison city officials demanding a look at the group’s books.
At Tuesday’s regular city council meeting, the council voted 4 to 1 with one abstention, to pay for an audit of the NLCHS books as a result of a $20,000 filing error regarding the society’s Battlefield Park project.
Fort Madison Councilman Rusty Andrews, who’s also the NLCHS treasurer, told Pen City Current he forgot to file a non-profit statement with the county, which resulted in the group having to pay increased property taxes on the Battlefield Park just east of Dollar General near 4th Street and Avenue H.
“I failed to file a form to the county stating NLCHS was a non-profit organization when they bought the battlefield site in 2015,” Andrews said. I didn’t file until 2017 when I got notice they owed taxes, therefore causing the NLCHS to pay two years taxes on the property.”
Andrews said he attempted to argue the case with the county in 2018 but didn’t have success in getting the taxes forgiven. The NLCHS owed close to $20,000 over the two-year period.
The property went to tax sale and the NLCHS decided to pay the taxes to cover the mistake. Andrews said Tuesday night that payment had been made.
“There is no excuse for my untimely manner on doing the treasurer job for NLCHS. The Mayor and Chris Greenwald both called me out on my mistake and I admitted fault,” he said.
At Tuesday’s meeting, Greenwald said Andrews is involved in a lot of projects for the betterment of the city and if he had to take blame, Greenwald wanted people aware of the good things Andrews does.
He said the money to pay the back taxes came from Federal Emergency Management Agency funds that were in a savings account from the 2008 flood.
Andrews said because flood fighting and rebuilding efforts in 2008 were done by volunteers, those hours were able to be counted at a volunteer rate set by the state and reimbursed.
City Councilman Matt Mohrfeld said it’s good practice for governmental bodies to ask for audits or audited financials from groups that it shares revenues with.
He made the motion for the audit, but included language that would allow the city to request audits for any entity receiving city funds. Greenwald seconded the motion. Councilman Bob Morawitz, who’s a member of the NLCHS voted against the audit because he wanted other entities like Fort Madison Area Arts Association to be audited as part of the process.
Andrews abstained from the vote. Greenwald, Kevin Rink, Mohrfeld, and Mark Lair all voted in favor of having the audit conducted.
Mayor Brad Randolph said the audit could cost the city between four and five thousand dollars.
Andrews said the city should be allowing private organizations to conduct their own business. Randolph said he disagreed that the society was a private business, considering the city has given the group almost $200,000 since 2001 and $70,000 in the past two years.