The city of White Salmon now has an ordinance that details how the city should accept and handle private donations.
The new ordinance is designed "to authorize the acceptance of donations for any public purpose ... and to specify policies and procedures for doing so."
The ordinance was requested by Ken Woodrich, the city's attorney. In recent months, White Salmon has accepted donations for the city's swimming pool, the police dog, the Fire Department, and a variety of other city operations.
"It's really just a housekeeping item," Woodrich said. "The Auditor wants to see an ordinance permitting the city to accept donations and directing staff how to apply the proceeds. It will help the staff determine when to accept and how to apply the donated funds."
The council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance.
"Whereas the city ... wishes to encourage citizen involvement in government and recognizes its citizens generosity ... the council hereby adopts an ordinance to allow donations to the city and to instruct staff on the proper disposition of donated funds," read an excerpt.
Mayor David Poucher said City Hall needed to address the way donations are handled by staff.
"People say we haven't had this donations ordinance for 100 years, why have it now? We should have this, so let's go ahead," Poucher said. "If the donation is to an existing city program, we'll accept the donation. If it's not an existing program, it goes before the council. And if it's for more than $5,000, it goes before the council."
Donations of personal property over $5,000 were singled out to be approved by the White Salmon City Council "so the city can evaluate any policy implications associated with the donation."
"Smaller cash donations -- under $5,000 -- won't change," Woodrich explained. "Larger cash donations will need to be approved by the City Council, depending on whether they're `conditional' or tied to a particular program. If it's an existing program, like the pool, it will likely proceed with council approval. The council may have to consider large cash donations conditional on a new program or donations of non-cash property, especially if they might commit the city to future expenditures. The payments will still go to the city and will be applied to the appropriate fund."
Among the issues the new ordinance addresses is ensuring donated funds are accounted for and go toward the purpose the person making the donation had in mind.
Also, the ordinance addresses donations that might be improper: "In the event a department head has reason to believe a donation could cause or result in an appearance of impropriety, the department head shall consult with the city attorney prior to accepting the donation," read an excerpt. "Conditioned donations shall be assigned to a project or existing fund consistent with the donor's desired use, as long as such conditions do not conflict with city, state, or federal law, in which case the city shall ask that the conditions be removed or decline the donation."
Poucher added that the ordinance would help clear up misinformation going around the community.
"Some people were saying that if you donated to a program, you'd be liable in the event of a problem with that program. Give me a break. This is not true at all. It's just a donation," Poucher explained.
In a related matter, Woodrich said that those who donated to the city to support the police dog can request their money back, now that the City Council has ended the Police Department's K9 operation.
"It was my original request that donations for the K9 program be in the form of a pledge rather than a cash donation," Woodrich said. "I would suggest the city staff contact those who made donations for the dog and determine whether they want a refund or whether they may be willing to shift the donation to another purpose."