Le Bourget partnership continues independently of city funding

Sister city organization plans fundraising to host French visitors this summer 

By Gabby Landsverk, Staff Writer

The Little Falls Sister City Exchange, which was removed from the city’s code last fall, is continuing as an independent organization. Their first order of business is raising funds in order to host a group from France this summer.

The committee began about 27 years ago, according to member Susy Prosapio, and was formed to oversee the sister city relationship between Little Falls and Le Bourget, France. Every two years, a group from one of the cities would host guests from their sister city.

Problems arose, however, when it was brought to the city’s attention that official city organizations are not allowed to solicit donations. The committee had been formed specifically to raise funds for sister-city visits, and was therefore in conflict with rules governing city organizations.

“We couldn’t find anything giving the city explicit authority to raise funds, so as our attorney interpreted it, we can’t do it,” Finance Officer Lori Kasella said.Furthermore, a portion of city fees, such as those collected from the Arts and Crafts Fair, was being using to fund the organization. According to Kasella, this amounted to about $3,000 a year.

The contention was that this money from the city was not being properly used for public benefit, but solely for the benefit of the people participating in the committee activities.

“The City Council had a legitimate concern on two fronts. One is people acting on behalf of the city being involved with fundraising. Two, are we being clean with the money, making sure the money from these fees is used for public benefit,” Prosapio said.

The confusion regarding the committee’s role within the city charter was confusing to many people, according to former committee president Gabrielle Meyer. She added that this discouraged participation because residents were unclear about what the committee’s purpose was.

“There wasn’t a lack of interest. There was a lack of understanding about how the committee fit into the city,” Meyer said. “There were so many things we didn’t understand.”

Prosapio said that freeing the organization from city code could be a help, rather than a hindrance, for both parties.

“No one wanted the city to be out of compliance,” Prosapio said. “We think the new structure is cleaner. … It’s very transparent.”

Now that the organization can fundraise, its goals are the same as they always were, Prosapio said; to promote friendship, understanding and cultural exchange.

“(The sister-city relationship) builds bridges between communities,” Prosapio said.

The process of establishing the committee as an independent organization involved some paperwork, Prosapio said. Brigid Fitzgerald, who has been involved with the organization, said that the group, officially referred to as Little Falls, MN Sister City, Inc., is officially recognized under Minnesota Statute 317A as a nonprofit corporation.

As an independent organization, the committee is open to more members, including people outside the city limits, Prosapio said.

The downside, however, is that the organization will no longer receive funding from the city. As a result of the recent transition, the group has some financial catching up to do, Meyer said.

The organization’s main focus now is making sure it has the resources to fund the French visit to Little Falls this summer.

Prosapio said the organization plans to have an official meeting in the spring, at which point it will elect an executive board. As a membership organization, Prosapio said the Sister City Exchange will collect membership dues.

The group will also organize fundraising events, including a French dinner at the Black & White on March 1.

This money, along with dues and any other income, will all go toward hosting a group from Le Bourget every four years.

“One hundred percent of the funds will go toward hosting,” said Meyer.

She went on to list things like transportation, recreational activities and admission costs to events or attractions as some of the projected expenses.

Prosapio said that the organization has few financial needs besides hosting the French, since the group has no administrative costs and no paid staff. Expenses like printing costs and other minor resource needs are covered by members, according to Prosapio.

“It becomes a lot of personal donations,” she said.

Prosapio said the group hopes to raise between $8,000 and $10,000 to fund activities for the French visitors in the summer.

The schedule for the visit from Le Bourget has not been finalized, although Meyer and Prosapio hope the organization will gain a lot of support from folks in Little Falls by the time the French visit.

“Now we’re really trying to push for the community to get involved,” Meyer said.

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