Mission Viejo

Charitable Giving - Your Decision or the City’s? 
by Steve Magdziak

Americans are reportedly the most caring and generous nation when it comes to charitable giving. In Mission Viejo, residents gave more to Race for the Cure than any other city in Orange County. That’s a good thing.

What’s not so good in my opinion, is when the city decides which charities are worthy of your tax dollars. More than 20 charities attended a commission meeting in MV recently, in a bid to get $75,000 of your tax dollars.

Some of the “needs” stated by the charities are questionable. One group for example, wants to give cell phones to homeless people that "live" in MV. Although I may agree with some of the services offered by this charity, are cell phones better than food and a roof? Could that homeless person be on illegal drugs?

Other charities stated that many MV residents are hurting for cash and that some cannot even afford clothing. If true, why then is the city giving the school district $800,000 of your tax dollars for an after-school program for Saddleback Unified K-6 schools? At an average attendance of 47 students per school (in 12 schools), that’s an estimated $1,400 per student. Our taxes already pay schools an estimated $12,000 per student per year; why isn’t the school district paying for “afterschool programs”? As a commissioner, I voted no on the $800,000 program. For that kind of money we could have had 2+ extra police officers, or rehabilitated 2+ parks or fixed sidewalks and roads.

Then there’s the issue of how these decisions are made. I have learned that there is no means test to determine who should get money, other than a charity or school district claiming they need it. In response to a charity’s request for money for school clothing, the city gave each student $100 to spend at Target. Taxpayers don’t get to know whether the family being awarded $100 per student has money, or whether they are already getting tax dollars through one of 20+ duplicate Government programs. After the votes to give money away, the Chairman commented that some of the reference letters were “boilerplates” created by the organization requesting money. Other comments from commissioners included the fact that maybe too much money was given to the arts and culture, and not enough to services like special needs and domestic violence services. Commissioner Wendy Bucknam, who ran for City Council in 2012 and may run again in 2014, voted to give tax dollars to these charities but the vote was “bifurcated” due to her conflict of interest in serving on a Board of a charity that is line for tax dollars. The Vice Chairman questioned how the money is divided up by staff. How about they address these questions prior to the vote, not after?

One example of why taxpayers have a right to know is the abuse of taxpayer-funded programs like “Electronic Benefit Transfer” (EBT) cards. These are the “debit” cards that are supposed to be used for essentials like food, but which have been used at bars, casinos, strip clubs, tattoo parlors and vacations to Hawaii and Florida. It’s easy; they just swipe them through a machine like a debit card, only the money doesn’t come out of their pocket - it comes out of yours as a taxpayer.

At the commission meeting, I explained (again) my rebate idea; that if the city has a “surplus”, why not give it back to the residents since it’s their money anyway? Let them decide which charities they want to give to.

I researched it and found that our city can legally rebate residents back monies they have been overcharged, or that end up as a city “surplus”. This can be done through say, a credit on your utility bill. Wouldn’t it be nice to get a $100 credit on your utility bill? Or how about a $100 check issued to you, so that you can decide if you want to buy clothing for your kids, or pay other bills with it? While council members claim that issuing checks would “cost too much money”, how do they know without finding out the true cost? Businesses send rebate checks out all the time. I urge the council to determine the cost and if isn’t feasible to issue checks, rebate the money back to the taxpayers on a utility bill.

Unfortunately, most council members want to remain in the business of deciding which charities they want to give your tax dollars to. Councilman Frank Ury scoffed at my suggestion to give back about $1 million of "surplus" tax dollars to residents, calling it “McDonald's money.” This implies residents don't need it. Mind you, I just was at a commission meeting where we were told that people were hurting for cash in MV. Maybe these people could use some “McDonald’s money.” Regardless, it’s our money; shouldn’t we decide whether we want to spend it on McDonalds, or something else? The only Council member who supported giving your money back to you was Cathy Schlicht.

Personally, I like the campaign slogan "MIND YOUR BUSINESS" that was on the Continental dollar in 1776 and the first US Penny in 1787. But the campaign that wins the hearts these days seems to be the photo op of the "caring politician" that funds these programs - with your money.

Contributing Editor Steve Magdziak is a resident and businessman in Mission Viejo. He can be reached at (949) 441-0499 with questions or comments.


Anonymous said...

Bucknum should have recused herself from the vote and left the Dias, and chambers. AB 1234 spells out requirements. The Mayor, and Commission Chair have provided cover for unacceptable conduct by this commissioner.

Anonymous said...

Classic Frank Ury. The man is a crony capitalist.

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