As of Tuesday, January 6, 2015
FALLS CITY — The Falls City Fire Department has been granted nonprofit status by the Internal Revenue Service, allowing the agency and its firefighters to continue a long tradition of donating to community causes.
For decades, firefighters with the Falls City department have donated their “points” money to charitable causes, such as Falls City High School, fire victims, or to pay for community Halloween or Christmas parties.
However, about a year ago the practice that allowed for money to be collected and donated came under fire in Falls City and at all other fire departments across the country.
The IRS has a strict definition of volunteer — meaning they cannot be paid anything, including a very minimal stipend for responding to emergency calls and attending training. The practice was originally meant to cover expenses, such as gas, incurred when volunteers respond to calls.
In Falls City, the amount firefighters were given credit for was based on a point system — with each call or training session assigned a point value. Firefighters were then “paid” based on how many points they had at the end of each month.
Those payments had to come to an end everywhere, but Falls City Fire Chief Bob Young said the Falls City Fire Association decided to continue to support local charities until the city and the IRS could work out an agreement for nonprofit status.
That took an unexpectedly long time — about six months — before the city received notice in December the status was granted.
“We had to pull about $4,000 out of savings to keep things going like they had been,” Young said.
But now that the fire department is officially a nonprofit, it can take a monthly donation from the city to cover what would have been firefighter “points” in the past and continue to support community causes. The arrangement is to be finalized in an agreement between the department and the city on Thursday.
“We are going to put this as more of a community contribution than anything else,” said Jon Hanken, Falls City’s interim city manager. “That gets us away from the IRS’ concerns and everything should be moving forward.”
Young said he’s glad to see the situation resolved, but added the nonprofit application process cost the department about $1,100 and didn’t change how the system operated.
“The only one that really benefitted from this whole thing is the IRS,” he said.