People who donated money to see a 1910 carousel restored and put into operation in Kennewick might not get their money back if the city council abandons the project and sells the 101-year-old carousel.
It all depends on what the city learns after doing an audit and determining what the carousel might be worth, said City Manager Marie Mosley.
City attorney Lisa Beaton told the council at a workshop last week that the city's investment of $815,000 is safe because the carousel itself is security on the money.
"We are in first position," Beaton said, referring to how the carousel assets could be used to pay back the city.
But other donors -- from people who gave small amounts to those who gave in a big way -- don't have a legal basis to reclaim their contributions, Beaton said.
People who gave to the Three Rivers Carousel Foundation got the tax write-off advantage because the foundation is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit, according to the rules of the Internal Revenue Service, Beaton noted.
Citizen reaction to the news that donations for the carousel could end up for nothing prompted several contacts to city hall Wednesday.
"We had a few emails and one person spoke to Lisa (Beaton)," Mosley said Thursday.
Most of the contacts were from news media and from carousel companies, she added.
"We are staying focused on what the council told us to do. There's a lot of different things that could happen down the road," Mosley said.
First up is the audit.
Mosley said the audit of the foundation's financial records will determine exactly how much money was received for the carousel project, where it came from and how it was spent.
"If we do sell it and if we do make a profit, then we'll talk to the council about what we'll do with it. In three weeks we'll be back in front of the council with a plan," she said.
As of Tuesday, there was about $43,000 left in the foundation's account.
Ken Johanning, a foundation member, said most of the city's investment went to pay off the 2003 purchase of the carousel. He said most of the donations went for restoring the 45 horses. The carousel has 44, with one extra as a spare.
Johanning said the largest donation, other than the city's investment, came as $75,000 from the Columbia Center Rotary Club.
Johanning said the Rotary Club had no use for a tax deduction, so that donation was a true gift of money.
Don Hart, president of the club, said there is some concern among club members about the future of the carousel, but there has been no discussion about the club's donation or how to respond to the situation.
"My recollection is we had provided $75,000 believing it was a good artistic value for the area, was historical and a tourism draw. We haven't formed an opinion about what is going on, but the longer term folks are wondering what might happen with the asset," he said.
Johanning said news that the city could sell the antique carousel and its 45 restored horses triggered a rush of calls to him Wednesday morning.
"People are stirring. I think the big shakers do not want to lose the carousel. Rumblings are starting to happen," he said.
"I agree with the city manager. We need to inventory and do an audit. There are a lot of steps the city has to go through," he added.