Since they don’t collect any local taxes from non-profit organizations, Canyonville, Oregon, a small town of 1,700, has decided to double the fees they charge schools, churches and YMCAs for city water and sewer. Written into the city ordinance is the statement, ‘in lieu of taxes.’
The issue came to light when Canyonville Christian Academy officials discovered the double billing while examining their books. Established in 1924, the academy says the practice of double billing goes back several decades and that is has cost them nearly $200,000 during that time.
The academy operates on a very tight budget and in 1996 actually decided to close shop. Supporters came to the rescue and donated enough funds to keep the doors open. Removing the extra charges for water and sewer would help them with that tight budget.
Academy officials contacted the city about the ‘surcharge’ and offered a settlement if the city would stop the practice. The city refused. When they asked what the rationale and legality of the surcharges were, one city official responded that they do it because they can.
School administrators have consulted with attorneys, mayors from other cities, a state legislator, the Oregon Attorney General and no one to the school’s knowledge has told them that the double billing is legal. Academy officials believe the practice is a violation of the US Constitution. Therefore, Canyonville Christian Academy has asked the Douglas County Circuit Court to rule on the legality of the practice. The outcome of the court’s decision will affect the local YMCA, ten churches and four Christian schools.
However, the eyes of many city and county governments are watching the case. If the court rules that the practice is legal, you can bet your bottom dollar that more cities and counties will start implementing the same practice of double billing non-profit organizations.
And if it’s legal for a municipality to double the fees to non-profits, other companies will follow suit and before long, non-profits will be paying double for electricity, gas, telephone and garbage pick-up. Once this door is legally opened, there may be no end as to the extras non-profits will have to pay and Pandora’s Box will be unleashed.