On Monday night, Missoula City Council gave Safeway and St. Patrick Hospital yet another extension on their proposed real estate swap. The Northside’s corporate neighbors now have until July 1, 2004, to complete the transfer of ownership. The corporate heavy-hitters used the oldest trick in the book to mollify the city, which was tapping its fingers a bit impatiently at the lack of communication from either organization about one month ago. The would-be developers offered to pay interest on a loan the city took out to purchase a new city shop facility, while the old shop building remains in limbo. But, says Janet Stevens, chief administrative officer, “Nothing is in writing. It’s just their word.”
Stevens does not know whether the hospital and the grocer plan to pay a full two years’ worth of interest, or whether they had a different arrangement in mind. Currently, taxpayers are paying the interest on the loan—about $1,200 each month. And—hold on to your rocking chairs—as of press time, the city had not seen a check from either one of the organizations.
Both St. Pat’s and Safeway had been incommunicado for at least two weeks just last month, and at the time, the city’s tolerance level for the foot-dragging had reached capacity. The duo failed to meet its first deadline of Dec. 22, and anticipated a failure to meet its April 26 deadline. With a little cashola, though, all is apparently forgiven.
Though the Council approved the extension, some Council members are rankled by the delays. Ward 2’s Don Nicholson favors the deal, but he said he’s troubled by the extensions. Ward 1’s Heidi Kendall, who opposed the extension, would like to see something done with the shops building, which will likely be demolished if Safeway rebuilds. Stacy Rye of Ward 3, who also opposed the extension, asked a question that no one could pointedly answer: “When, exactly, would we draw the line in the sand and say ‘OK, no more extensions?’”
The Chronicle of Philanthropy featured the father-son Muralts of the Muralt’s Travel Plaza, a truckstop west of Missoula, in its Feb. 5 edition, and we’re betting that the family is not going to frame the article and hang it in the office. Along with a half-page photo of the Gary-Walter Muralt team in front of two semis, the Chronicle reported some curious information about the family’s ostensibly charitable foundation.
Technically, says the article, the foundation is a “supporting organization,” which was intended by the government for use by universities or larger organizations, but has also been discovered by wealthy people for its tax advantages.
According to the story, here’s how it works: The business receives a tax deduction for money that goes into the “supporting organization,” and the charitable organization, in turn, loans money back to its donors, with board approval and standard interest rates.
The Muralts have taken advantage of the loan option to the tune of $758,000 over the past five years. Over the same time span, the foundation donated about $107,500 locally. In the Chronicle, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, calls the practice “abusive.”
Walter Muralt says the senator’s comment disturbed him. “We’re not doing anything wrong,” he says, explaining that the family is merely making sure that more money stays with Missoula charities. Sure, they could scam their own foundation and misuse the funds, says Muralt. “It’d be easy.” They could charge themselves rent, they could charge themselves administrative salaries, but they do none of the above, he says.
But the younger Muralt might not be entirely above giving in to the temptations of wealth. He jokingly threatened the person who sent the Chronicle article the way of the Indy. At least we think he was joking.