The Signal Mountain Town Council is considering a partnership that could put fundraising power for the Mountain Arts Community Center in the hands of citizens.
During their June work session, council members discussed the possibility of forming a public-private partnership with a yet-to-be-determined community group, enabling the MACC to become mostly self-sufficient over time.
The agreement would allow the approved group to raise funds to pay for repairs the council has not yet allocated money toward or has chosen not to fund. One such example is the back portion of the historic grammar school building that houses the MACC's programs. While the council authorized initial repair work to the original 1926 portion of the facility, it has not committed funds to addressing issues in the back portion of the building.
"Not [installing sprinklers in] the back of that building is still an issue, and the town's not going to do it. But if a group like this said 'The very first thing we want to do is try to raise money to perhaps [install sprinkers throughout] the rest of the building,' they can't do that right now," explained Councilman Dan Landrum. "We need an agreement so that that can happen."
The chosen group would be required to sign a memorandum of agreement detailing the terms of the partnership and either have or agree to apply for 501(c)(3) status, allowing it to be eligible for federal tax exemption, town officials said.
Though the town-appointed MACC Board is already able to accept donations, MACC Director Barb Storm said having a 501(c)(3) organization would yield more benefits, such as the ability to offer donors a tax deduction and apply for funding from a pool of grants 90 percent larger than what is available to local government entities.
Depending on the goals of the group, she added, the MACC Board could either be replaced by the fundraising organization or work alongside it. If replaced, the new body would take on the current board's advisory role for MACC programs. If the two co-exist, one would be focused solely on acquiring funds while the other retained its advisory role.
Late last year, the Signal Mountain fundraising group MACC Patrons announced it was seeking 501(c)(3) certification, but group member Lolly Durant said the body has since disbanded. She cited "roadblocks" like needing to form a memorandum of agreement with the town as opposed to working independently as reasons the group chose to cease their efforts.
"It doesn't mean we wouldn't at some point be open to a conversation again," Durant added.
Though the decision is still ongoing and no decisions have been made, Town Manager Boyd Veal said the next step would likely be for council members to vote on a resolution publicly stating their willingness to enter into an agreement with a 501(c)(3). The resolution would allow officials to draft agreement documents ahead of time so any interested parties would be able to refer to them to see how the partnership would work, he said.
"It's going to be exciting to identify people in the community who have both the experience and the interest in being a part of either a development board or a nonprofit organization to raise the funds and hopefully better the future of what the MACC is going to be," said Storm.
While the matter of private-public partnerships was brought up in regards to the MACC, Veal said the discussion could also apply to other partnerships, such as those that could be made between the town and advocates for Signal Mountain's sports fields. Officials are expected to continue the discussion during their next work session July 28.