Taos Fiesta faces financial woes

July 15, 2018

TAOS — Ahead of the annual Fiestas de Taos, the organization that has presented the three-day event for the past 60 years has been mired in troubles — from a fiesta queen shake-up to questions about financial management to the loss of nonprofit status.

The 2017-18 queen abruptly resigned in April, months before the end of her reign. Her reasons for stepping down were unclear. A princesa on the court was chosen days later to fill out the royal duties until the crowning last month of a new queen — Alicia Romero, a Taos High School senior who was the only applicant for the role.

This isn’t the first year the Taos Fiesta Council has struggled to draw interest in the fiesta court.

Meanwhile, the financial issues have led some members of the Fiesta Council to re-evaluate the organization, and one councilor is calling for what could be the group’s first financial audit.

Don Francisco Trujillo, a longtime Fiesta Council member pushing for the audit, said he and others remain devoted to ensuring the fiestas go on next weekend as planned.

The event honors the patron saints of Taos, Santiago (St. James) and St. Anne.

“It’s the only traditional event that we still have as a Hispanic community which includes all cultures,” Trujillo said. “That’s what keeps me coming back.”

But he has been frustrated by organization’s procedures and missteps. For instance, the IRS revoked the council’s 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status in 2010 because it had failed to file the required tax forms three years in a row.

Since then, the council has received public money — tens of thousands of dollars — as well as private donations but lacks public records to show how the money is used.

The Fiesta Council receives $15,000 per year from the town for general purposes, such as portable toilets, security and year-round storage of equipment. In fiscal year 2018, it also received $6,500 from Taos County, which can be used only for advertising.

According to the National Council of Nonprofits, an organization that loses its tax-exempt status could be liable for back taxes. The loss of nonprofit status also could affect taxpayers who logged donations to the Fiesta Council on their own IRS forms.

Trujillo, a member of the council for three decades, resigned earlier this year but then returned and since has been working to address the concerns.

Several members of the council said last week that they don’t recall the organization ever undergoing a financial audit, either in-house or by an outside firm. Audits are not required by law for nonprofits.

“I’m not afraid of an audit,” Treasurer Joseph Quintana said during a Monday meeting. “I’m not afraid of an internal or external audit. Bring it on.”

Trujillo assured him the request was not a personal attack, but rather a way for the council to ensure its bookkeeping is correct.

Fiesta Council President Anna Herrera has agreed to form an audit committee to examine the group’s books, and the council agreed to have an audit completed after fiestas, which begin with opening ceremonies Friday and run through Sunday.

Under the council’s bylaws, part of Quintana’s role as treasurer is to ensure financial statements and tax forms are filed.

Quintana said the council is trying to reinstate its 501(c)(3) tax status and has filed three years of 990 forms with the IRS. However, copies of the documents weren’t available though the IRS website or Guidestar, a nonprofit vetting organization that posts tax information online.

One of Trujillo’s complaints is that the council is failing to follow its bylaws when it comes to meetings and executive officers’ term limits.

Like any organization, the fiesta council operates under a set of rules established when the council was founded. They cover everything from choosing a royal court to officer and member duties.

Trujillo says Quintana is in his sixth year as treasurer, a violation of the two-year limit outlined in the bylaws.

Quintana denies the violation, saying his first years as treasurer were under the direction of the president, and that he did not perform the duties of treasurer.

Despite the frustrations, the Taos Fiesta Council remains determined to move forward.

Six new members have joined in the past year, Quintana said, more than he has ever seen join all at once.

“We have a lot of new ideas,” he said. “We have a lot of new young blood coming into the Fiesta Council who want to have their ideas expressed.”

A version of this story first appeared in the Taos News, a sister publication of the Santa Fe New Mexican.

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