Group marketing town seeks tax-exempt status

A group raising money to promote Ridgefield — its arts, culture, restaurants, and businesses — with a goal of encouraging visitors to town, increasing tourism and trade, has town officials’ support. But the selectmen aren’t sure whether the Marketing Initiative Project, led by village retailer and landlord Wayne Addessi, qualifies as a tax-exempt charity that would fit under the umbrella of the “Friends of Ridgefield” organization.

The Friends of Ridgefield has tax-exempt status, allowing people to donate to it and take tax deductions on their gifts. It has had about a dozen member organizations — such as CHIRP, which puts on concerts in the park, the Ridgefield Independent Film Festival, and the Ridgefield Holiday Trust Fund, which finances the Halloween Walk and Main Street’s holiday lights. Membership allows them to accept tax-deductible contributions under the Friends of Ridgefield umbrella, and also gives them access to some town support in the from of bookkeeping by the town finance department.

The group marketing Ridgefield appeared before the selectmen Wednesday, Jan. 31, with the idea of joining as a member tax-exempt group.

Addessi said the group had initially thought it would raise $25,000 to market the town, then made the goal $50,000, and is pushing it even higher

“Now we realize, to do what we want to do, we need to get to $100,000,” he said.

Among its projects are building a tourism-oriented website, and producing videos about Ridgefield.

“I eat this, sleep this, drink it, and I’m living it every day,” Addessi told the selectmen.

“How is this a non-profit?” Selectwoman Barbara Manners asked.

The problem was fitting the marketing Ridgefield initiative into the charitable, non-profit definition that would qualify it for membership.

“There are very strict criteria, in terms of it being charitable,” Manners said.

“Does it have to be charitable, or just non-profit?” Addessi asked.

He also said the group didn’t want to become an agency of the town.

“We want to keep it outside of government, we want the freedom to be creative,” Addessi said.

Town Attorney David Grogins was consulted, and suggested the group meet with specialist tax law attorneys at his firm, Cohen and Wolf, to get a firm opinion on how to qualify for the Friends of Ridgefield’s charitable umbrella, allowing tax-deductible donations.

“This is definitely something we’d like people to be able to donate to,” said Manners.