Mar-Mac Chamber asked to consider UMGC request for reimbursement of $18,000 tax credit
By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times Editor
The McGregor-Marquette Chamber of Commerce has been asked to consider reimbursing Upper Mississippi Gaming Corporation (UMGC) $18,000 for a six-year-old tax credit, which related to the filming of the movie “Duck Farm Number 13” in McGregor.
In 2007, a bill was signed into law designed to promote Iowa as a filmmaking destination. That year, UMGC gave the Chamber, through the city of McGregor, $100,000 when “Duck Farm Number 13”—later renamed “16 to Life”—was filmed in the city.
However, explained UMGC Board President Norm Lincoln, that was not a normal grant. UMGC was to be reimbursed for the movie’s proceeds up to $100,000. So far, said UMGC Executive Director Sindee Gohde, UMGC has received $13,000.
In 2008, a tax credit was issued that could be sold on the open market and put on individual and corporate income taxes.
“We are a not-for-profit,” said Lincoln of UMGC, “so there was no need for the credit, but you still get it.”
The problem, said Lincoln and Gohde, was that, for some reason, the $18,000 went to the Chamber, and was not reimbursed to UMGC as they say it should have been. According to the city of McGregor, the Chamber was told to keep the money and that it went toward hiring a consultant to perform a hotel/motel study in Marquette, but Lincoln said, without having more knowledge, he couldn’t confirm that.
“We’re amiss as to how it slipped through the cracks,” said Gohde.
Gohde said the issue first came up at a UMGC meeting within the past six months. When a casino DCI agent, who looks through all UMGC’s reports, saw the topic was discussed, more questions were raised, prompting an investigation.
At McGregor’s July 16 council meeting, the council discussed a letter sent to the city from UMGC requesting the reimbursement. Since it was the Chamber that ultimately spent the money, attorney Mike Schuster advised the council to request the Chamber to handle the situation. The council somberly agreed, noting that paying back $18,000 would be a devastating blow to the Chamber.
When asked how UMGC felt about the request’s possible impact on the Chamber, Gohde said, “It’s not that we’re trying to attack [the Chamber]. We’re just doing what we have to do to protect ourselves. The intent is to clarify—not ruffle feathers.”
Without doing its due diligence, Gohde said UMGC could be reprimanded.
However, going through documents dating back that far will be difficult, she said.
“All the information is buried in paperwork,” Gohde explained. “It’s not easy to find with people leaving and changes in command. It’s just unfortunate.”
Right now, added Chamber Executive Director Carolyn Gallagher, the Chamber is also looking into the matter.
“We’re gathering information and will respond based on what we find. Then we’ll know where we stand,” Gallagher said. “It will all work itself out. Whatever we have to do, we’ll do. I’m here to support the community, and that’s what I’m going to continue to do.”
When asked if UMGC would consider forgiving the $18,000, if it was spent in good will, Lincoln said that would have to be posed to and voted on by each board member.
“If the money was presented back then, they could have asked for a grant and probably gotten it,” he said. “It should have gone into the treasury. The goal is to reinvest in other grants to other qualifying agencies.”
No matter how the situation turns out, Gohde and Lincoln reassured that it will not affect UMGC’s issuance of grants to other local groups.
“Each [application] is judged on its own merit,” Gohde said.
“It’s not just who it’s from,” Lincoln added, “but the cause, the amount of money asked for and who the other applicants are. It will be the same process we always go through.”