AUBURN — While the Owasco Lake Watershed Management Council has been organized as a nonprofit organization since its inception at the end of 2010, the council finally received its 501(c)(3) status from the Internal Revenue Service this month.
Steve Lynch, director of Cayuga County's Planning & Economic Development Department announced the news at the council's latest meeting on Tuesday. With this new IRS designation, Lynch said the council can now accept donated goods and services and is eligible for a wider range of state and federal funding opportunities. Funds will support the group's mission, which is to maintain and improve the water quality of the lake and its watershed.
Though the group has been around for a while, Lynch said the council had not applied for the official status until the end of the last year.
"It was something that wasn't urgently needed at any given point," he said.
Within about four weeks, the IRS had granted the nonprofit status. Lynch said he's seen those applications take six months and thought it "pretty remarkable," that it had been granted so quickly. The Galbato Law Firm, Lynch added, worked with the council pro bono to get the designated status.
The second measure the council is tackling is potentially assuming responsibility for the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program, which was formed in 2007. While the program was supposed to be managed by the council upon the council's creation, Lynch said in the interim it has been under the purview of the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District.
"We were very fortunate to have the Cayuga County Soil and Water Conservation District graciously step up to the table and play that role, and do a good job at it," Lynch said.
Members of the council voted on Tuesday "to fully investigate the assumption of full administration of the Owasco Lake Watershed Inspection Program," which Lynch said will include examining payroll, benefits, accounting and whether the council can handle the administrative duties. The program, which is paid for by residents who buy water from the city of Auburn and town of Owasco, would be structured similarly.
But, Lynch said, the board has identified some benefits to taking back responsibility of the program, including the ability for the watershed inspectors and the council to take ownership of the program, instead of being an employee under another group.
"I think this will give them more of a branding and more of a focus and an opportunity to focus their energy and efforts to growing the watershed inspection program over time," he said.
Lynch said the board is actively engaged in gathering details of how the transition could go. While there's no specific timeline yet, Lynch said he hopes it will happen within the year.