More than 50 Columbia County charitable organizations are at risk of losing their tax-exempt status if they don't file delinquent tax returns by Friday.
The Internal Revenue Service's Pension Protection Act of 2006 requires all small nonprofit organizations, even those who never had to previously file tax returns, to start filing them each year.
Charitable organizations nationwide had three years to file the simple questionnaire by May for 2007, 2008 and 2009.
Because so many did not, the deadline was extended to Oct. 15.
"If they do not come into compliance, then their tax-exempt status will be automatically revoked under the Pension Protection Act," said Dee Harris, an IRS spokeswoman.
Columbia County Arts Inc. is one of the 55 organizations on an IRS list of charitable organizations that had not complied by the end of June.
Kathleen Jones, who was named Columbia County Arts president in August, said she is aware of the looming deadline and is working to get the returns filed.
"Things got confused," Jones said, adding that organization leaders for the past two years knew about the new filing requirement but didn't act on it. "It just kind of got lost in the shuffle between those two presidents. ... (It) slipped through the cracks. But it has been taken care of."
Before the 2006 law, most organizations with revenue less than $25,000 did not have to file tax returns.
For most small charities, the law requires a short questionnaire that would take about 10 minutes to complete, Harris said.
The IRS attempted to inform charitable organizations about the law through the media and agencies that service them. The IRS also sent letters to the last known address for each charitable organization.
Small nonprofits are often informal organizations with rapidly changing leadership, making it difficult to contact them without updated information.
"Often what happens with these small organizations, it could be PTA associations or neighborhood recreation associations, a lot of times they do not have a fixed location," Harris said.
"So the address, when they applied for their tax-exempt status, was whoever was the president at that time."
More than 8,000 charitable organizations statewide are noncompliant. Any that lose their tax-exempt status would have to pay taxes on their revenue, and donations would not be tax-deductible for the donors.
"Donors are safe until the actual list of organizations that have had their tax-exempt status revoked comes out," Harris said. "So even if the organizations may be listed right now, if (donors) are making donations to the organizations right now, your donations are still deductible."
Tony Wilmoth, the president of the Grovetown Lions Club, said he recently read about the new requirement in a newspaper. He assumed that it would be handled through Lions Club International because he'd not been informed or gotten any specific guidance about the filing requirement.
Also among Columbia County organizations listed as noncompliant are United We Care food pantry in Grovetown, The Lions Club and Free Masons in Harlem, the Columbia County Council on Aging and several labor unions.
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