Fund-Raiser to Target Museum Taxes

Don't look a gift horse in the mouth, goes the old saying--but in this case, you might want to check that it doesn't bite.

Two years ago, the Newport Harbor Nautical Museum received a donated new home aboard a Newport Beach landmark: the Reuben E. Lee riverboat and restaurant.

But in order to keep the gift of a new place 10 times the size of its old one, the small nonprofit museum had to agree to continue paying $30,000 annual tideland fees, levied by the county on waterfront businesses.

In doing so, it became the only Orange County nonprofit taxed in that manner.

The Newport Balboa Rotary Club got wind of this and decided to help by having a fund-raiser for the museum Saturday.

"It brought to mind Willie Nelson and his IRS tapes," said Andy Campbell, member and past president of the Rotary Club. "A tax protest sounded like a great idea for a fund-raiser."

Country singer Nelson had settled his $16.7-million tax debt by auctioning off his belongings and recording an album--"Who'll Buy My Memories: The IRS Tapes." Profits from the album went toward his IRS bill.

Dubbing the event the "Newport Tea Party" after Boston's Colonial-era protest against taxation without representation, the group is dedicating the money raised to the museum's annual taxes.

Museum officials said they are grateful for the help, though they insist they are not trying to shirk their responsibility for paying for the taxes.

"We're big boys, and we knew the tideland fees were our responsibility," said Phil Glasgow, museum president.

Even with the tax, the chance to house a budding museum that showcased the history of Newport Harbor on a full-size replica of a traditional Mississippi paddle boat seemed ideal.

"We've got an obligation, and we're going to pay it," Glasgow said. "But it's a very big chunk of change. We're hopeful that when renegotiations on the lease come up next year, the county will reconsider."

Glasgow said the nonprofit has served the community since it opened on Balboa Boulevard in 1986. Since moving aboard the boat, the museum gets 2,000 visitors monthly, and an additional 400 schoolkids through its marine studies program.

Renamed the Pride of Newport, the boat's galleries feature miniature ship models, marine paintings, historical photographs and nautical artifacts.

Indeed, the museum's long history made it the perfect community service project for the Rotary Club, President Nancy Raney said.

The casino-themed fund-raiser will include gaming tables, food, live music and a silent auction. Tickets are $35 each. Information: (949) 675-8915.

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