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Madison Community Foundation Has $425K; Open Thrift Store Now, with No Tax Dollars

Last updated on 2014.03.05

I received a delegation from the community thrift store steering committee Thursday evening. After receiving my e-mail (the first and only one they said they had received as of Thursday at, the committee sent Don Amert to my door to make the committee's case. Again, the committee isn't seeking public input; they're selling their plan. Nonetheless, Don left with a lot of input from my wife and me.

Among the many interesting points we discussed was Don's clarification of the financial picture. The committee needs $1.05 million to get the loan from the bank to clear the South Egan lot and build the new store. The committee wants $150,000 from the Madison City Commission, $150,000 from the Lake County Commission, and the rest, $750,000, from the LAIC, grants, and private donations.

The new thrift store building would be owned by the Madison Community Foundation. Madison's card-table Mafia formed this non-profit in 1998 to buy exercise equipment and subsidize memberships for low-income folks to the new Community Center (these guys do like using the word community; it's funny they don't openly engage the community, except to ask for our money, or allow themselves to be accountable to it). In 2002 the foundation raised about $100,000 to buy John Green his current downtown studio. According to the Lake County property tax database, the Madison Community Foundation still owns that building at 111 South Egan and pays $1513.64 in annual property tax on it.

According to the Madison Community Foundation's 2010 990 tax return, MCF had $425,000 in cash on hand. (They appear to value the Green studio at $62,000, after depreciation.) MCF's nine board members at the end of 2010 included thrift store steering committee members Jon Knuths, Jerry Johnson, and Clark Sinclair, as well as Mayor Gene Hexom. (The others listed on the 2010 990: Judy Payne, Ed Fiegen, DeLon Mork, Doug Knowlton, and Pat Prostrollo.)

The Madison Community Foundation has enough cash on hand to completely eliminate the need for the $300,000 subsidy they want to take from the city and county coffers. Heck, for $300,000, they could probably buy Clark Sinclair's existing Main Street building, pay the bills with the rent they charge Bulldog Media upstairs, use the basement for storage, and open the thrift store on the main floor within 30 days. Come on, Clark: make the sale!

Madison Community Foundation has the resources to make the community thrift store happen right now, with no debt, no delay, no risk for taxpayers, and immediate payback for the community. If the community thrift store is such a great idea, they should put their money where their mouth is and make it happen now.


  1. Michael Black 2012.06.17

    I just finished up a term on the board of a nonprofit. It was an interesting and sometimes frustrating experience. What I wanted did not always happen. In many cases, the final decision turned out far better than what I had personally envisioned.

    Unless you are directly involved in making the decisions, it is impossible to understand the different priorities in a group.

    Although I don't necessarily agree with certain actions, it doesn't mean that I don't respect the opinions of the Foundation Board many of which are my friends.

  2. John Hess 2012.06.17

    Why don't they get a small grocery store going using an existing building? Operate it as a non-profit. One with low prices for staples, bulk and health foods. Nutritious lower costing food. The store would make a profit and would less pressure on the food pantry. Hamburger is $4.59 a pound at Sunshine. People can't afford to feed their family in Madison. That's the real need, but Dan Roeman is paying member of the LAIC and Gayle Mayberry isn't. Just about forgot that.

  3. grudznick 2012.06.17

    Maybe non-profit grocery stores could appear in every town around the state. I, for one, know I could use some better and cheaper food...I have to grocery shop at Runnings once a month. But where would it end? Non-profit grocery stores being supported by local government, next we'd have non-profit advertising agencies being supported by local government to flout the advantages of the non-profit grocery stores, then non-profit pet stores to help out the cat and dog people, and so forth. Pretty soon government would be propping up non-profits for every market niche and we'd be one step closer to Mr. Sibby's global heinous economy run by Kiwanis and Shriners.

  4. Eve Fisher 2012.06.17

    What's the $ limit beyond which the city and the county have to take it to a vote of the citizens of Madison/Lake County?

  5. John Hess 2012.06.17

    Your right Grudznick, where would it end? Soon the government will be paying farmers to grow the food.

    Now seriously, it wouldn't be that different from a Food Cooperative. Our town isn't big enough to attract a HyVee. I've already written letters Eve and gotten a response. They got bigger fish to fry.

    If these guys are willing to sell used items to compete with existing businesses in our town, why not sell something we don't have that is forcing people to drive to Brookings or Sioux Falls.

    I'm just glad I only have two dogs to feed, and that ain't cheap. Thankfully Menards started to carry the huge bags about half the price of Pamida. I know people who drive to Sioux Falls just for cat food stuff is so high or unavailable here.

  6. Michael Black 2012.06.17

    There is a Coop Natural Food Store in Sioux Falls. It has over 1700 members. It looks as if they serve the organic crowd. I don't think the prices would be any cheaper.

  7. grudznick 2012.06.17

    I'm totally in agreement with the grocery store idea, Mr. Hess. I really think a Trader Joe Store would be well received in Madison, but I don't think they operate as a nonprofit. But it might toss a fear in the belly of this Sunshine store that everybody seems to complain about.

  8. John Hess 2012.06.17

    Trader Joes has some hippie roots and sells lots of organic and so on, but now they're a large chain of big stores that will never come to Madison. Sioux Falls maybe, since one is in Omaha and the Twin Cities.

    But a non-profit food cooperative doesn't have to sell just organics and grass fed beef. They could also sell mass produced food. Without a profit motive things would be cheaper. It would become a destination store for Howard, Colman, etc. I continue to amazed at the percentage of people who drive to buy food. We are literally pushing people away from this town.

  9. Chris 2012.06.17

    An Aldi, which is a low cost basic bulk grocery, would do well and fit the local marketplace needs, and is actually owned by the same German firm behind Trader Joes, and carries much of the same product lines, and already has stores throughout Iowa and beyond...otherwise Fareway is already looking to expand in South noted in last weeks Argus Leader.

  10. John Hess 2012.06.17

    Wow, didn't know Chris. That's where we should send the letters and email. We really would be an ideal market for that with the college.

    The LAIC and the Chamber know this is what people want but won't pursue it, so it really is possible letters might help. A huge part of the market is now traveling out of town which is just ridiculous.

  11. larry kurtz 2012.06.17

    Trader Joe's in Santa Fe is an unrelenting swarm: it would take an act of supreme idiocy for a progressive company like that locate in the chemical toilet.

  12. larry kurtz 2012.06.17

    Tatanka bars are sold in Whole Foods Market (both locations in SF), Trader Joe's, and Sunflower Market.

  13. larry kurtz 2012.06.17

    Be patient, Lake County: Madison is going to see Sioux Falls from her front door very soon. Expect Republicans fleeing Minnesota coming to bask in South Dakota's regressive tax structure to see your town as a bargain.

  14. grudznick 2012.06.17

    Mr. Kurtz, those tanka bars are insanely expensive and a fad. They will go away soon. Did you know they create more greenhouse gasses and litter in their production than your average sized snickerdoodle does?

  15. larry kurtz 2012.06.17

    70 calories and a better breakfast than sausage gravy over taters....

  16. grudznick 2012.06.17

    You make a breakfast bar that is comprised of dehydrated sausage gravy and taters and I will personally beat a path to your doorstep.

  17. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.17

    Eve, I don't have an answer to that, and I'd really like one. Any legal minds out there know which statute covers the threshold for referring local commission actions?

  18. larry kurtz 2012.06.17

    Being landlocked is a transportation nightmare during real Upper Midwest winters: a lost heating unit during a blizzard is a frozen load.

    If PUC is to be the bedrock where Dems build a new party we should give them a path to hack into the sustainable wilderness.

  19. grudznick 2012.06.17

    Mr. H, does Madison have "home rule" or whatever it is that lets them declare whatever powers they want to themselfs?

  20. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.17

    Nope, as far as I know, no "home rule" charter here. Madison city commissioners just act as if they can do whatever they please... or whatever pleases the rich guys who never run for office but run the town from the traveling card table.

  21. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.17

    Eve, the answer to your question lies in SDCL 9-20-19:

    Legislative decision of governing body subject to referendum--Administrative decision not subject to referendum. Any legislative decision of a governing body is subject to the referendum process. A legislative decision is one that enacts a permanent law or lays down a rule of conduct or course of policy for the guidance of citizens or their officers. Any matter of a permanent or general character is a legislative decision.
    No administrative decision of a governing body is subject to the referendum process, unless specifically authorized by this code. An administrative decision is one that merely puts into execution a plan already adopted by the governing body itself or by the Legislature. Supervision of a program is an administrative decision. Hiring, disciplining, and setting the salaries of employees are administrative decisions.

    Unfortunately, I'm still not sure whether that means we can refer a motion like what Commissioner Delzer made and the commission tabled on May 29: "to approve the transfer of $150,000 to the Lake Area Improvement Corporation utilizing $60,000 from the General Fund and $90,000 from the Second Cent Sales Tax to be utilized for the purchase and demolition of buildings located on S. Egan Avenue in order to construct a new thrift store contingent upon the City receiving a bank commitment letter that approves the financing of the project". Armchair lawyers?

  22. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.17

    If such a funding motion is referrable, it will require petition signatures from 5% of registered voters in Madison. At the April election, Madison had 5,072 such voters (but remember, over 1100 of those voters aren't here to sign any petitions). Launching a local referendum thus requires over 250 signatures within 20 days of publication of the motion.

  23. John 2012.06.17

    The number of registered voters is based on last governors race.

  24. Linda McIntyre 2012.06.17

    If such a funding motion would be referred, would county residents be able to vote on it too? After all, they are coming after our tax dollars too.

  25. Linda McIntyre 2012.06.17

    Maybe every poster on this subject should be emaiing the steering committee at the above address. If they don't read this blog and don't care for the surveys by KJAM and Madville, maybe they don't know that people are so upset about this! I don't believe this, but I do believe that they need a lot more emails.

  26. Linda McIntyre 2012.06.17

    Another idea, a well advertised community and county wide meeting on this subject, initiated by we the taxpayers, with an invite to the steering committee. They claim to want public input and say they will abide by the community wishes. Let's see if they mean it.

  27. John Hess 2012.06.17

    No one commented on Gene Hexom (our mayor) being on the board of the foundation seeking the money. Is he no longer on that board? In my view from the beginning that should be disclosed (or maybe he did but I haven't read or heard that) and he not participate in the decision making, possibly even the discussions that lead to the decision. Am I being too picky? I realize he is not benefiting personally, but regardless, isn't that the point of being at arms length so you aren't swayed by personal relationships. I know one person at the county who recuses themselves rather than vote on money going to organizations that they are active, which seems the right road to take.

  28. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.18

    Actually, John2, the number of voters for local referenda is based on the number on file at the time of petitioning: "The percentage shall be based on the number of voters of the municipality as determined by the county auditor from the master registration file as of the time of the filing of the petition" (SDCL 9-20-8).

    Linda, if this motion can be referred, only city voters would vote on the city motion. If the county makes a comparable budget resolution, then county voters could refer and vote on that.

  29. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.18

    John H., the May 10 MDL mentions that the mayor continues to represent the city on the MCF. The foundation board appears to be like the LAIC and other entities that automatically include the mayor. How anyone else gets appointed to the board is a mystery to me.

    Linda: a public meeting would be great. However, as we discussed with Don Amert, the committee has already missed that boat by composing its plan in secret, without engaging in any public dialogue to determine the community's needs, wants, and financial will. The boosters are not taking new ideas; they are selling their own idea. They are in marketing/debate mode, and the rest of us have to resort to rebuttal.

    Remember the public forum the school board hosted last year at the end of March after we rejected their first bond proposal for the new gym? That forum was better than nothing, but it was a debate, structured to hear audience members only speak pro or con on the new gym proposal. We didn't really hear many new ideas. We didn't really get to engage the board members. We didn't get to brainstorm as a community. That forum wasn't terribly productive.

    We need to avoid a similar failure with any meeting on the thrift store. We know people are against it, we know why they are against it. We need a more open meeting we everybody can participate in small-group discussions about community priorities and possible projects and then discuss the products of those conversations with the committee members and the group as a whole.

  30. Linda McIntyre 2012.06.18

    Are you saying, Cory, that the city can just decide to spend this much money with no accountability, no proof that it will work, no projected budgeting etc, and without disclosing that they already can do it with no more public money? And then the county will probably have to go along as the money is already spent by the city?

  31. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.18

    I'm not sure, Linda. The city can vote to spend money for whatever reason it wants, or no good reason at all. City residents may be able to hold them accountable with a referendum; they definitely can hold them accountable at next year's commission election. The county is not bound at all by a city funding decision; we could definitely push our county commissioners to say no.

    And we non-city residents of the county could hold our city commission accountable by calling for a boycott of Madison merchants to squeeze the sales tax dollars the city seems determined to waste.

  32. John Hess 2012.06.18

    IC. I didn't think city reps were given voting rights and considered a full board member, but maybe they are depending on the organization. That's probably a good thing.

  33. caheidelberger Post author | 2012.06.18

    That could well be the case, John... although I can't tell, because the foundation's Articles of Incorporation from 1998 don't make that clear, and MCF doesn't post its by-laws anywhere else. A little transparency would help.

    Of course, I'm not even sure those 1998 articles apply any more....

  34. John Hess 2012.06.18

    We should hope the allegiance to the city comes before an allegiance to the organization. With technology organizations should have to post all of their 990s on their web site for public review. So many people don't know this information is available and you do an incredible job of revealing the facts. Not that we can agree with your interpretation at all times, but everyone should be thankful you put it out there.

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