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Citizen charity draws scrutiny

Town returns accepted donation, may send back others

As the old saying goes, never look a gift horse in the mouth. But what if you have no use for the gift?

That's a question members of the Bethlehem Town Board have been pondering recently, as a number of resident donations have been received for projects that were and still are on the drawing board.

It's provoked a discussion on the town's position on citizen charity. In short, there isn't one.

"This is a unique situation. I do not know of it happening in the past," said Supervisor Sam Messina.

The town receives donations on the order of $10 to several hundred dollars on a relatively regular basis, but these are usually to fund things like memorial park benches or sheet music for the senior choir, not for policy items or programs.

Most recently, at a June 23 meeting, the Town Board discussed an anonymous donation of $200 to be split between fixing the tennis court lights at the Elm Avenue Park and financing an Internet broadcast system for town meetings. At the time, neither issue had been decided by the board (fixing the lights was approved later in that meeting).

Including this donation, $300 has been given to "supporting Internet access for Town Board meetings." Those checks have been accepted, but also recorded as liabilities so the town has the option to refund the money.

Messina said in a later interview the town would be sending back the donation towards the light repairs and would likely do the same to the broadcast donations should a program be pursued.

"If we find a solution, and I think we will to the access issue.... I would certainly act to send those checks back too," Messina said.

The light fix will be funded by forgoing the purchase of a lawn mower for the parks and rec department.

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