LAKELAND — For more than six years the Downtown Lakeland Partnership has been operating without a federal tax-exempt status and may owe fines and back taxes for the oversight, board members recently learned.

The loss of the status in 2011, unknown to board members until late last month, suggests the downtown advocacy group has not submitted required financial documents to the IRS for at least nine years: three years as a tax-exempt organization and six as a taxable corporation.

The DLP, organized as a 501(c)(6) business league, runs a number of downtown events including First Friday, its primary source of revenue. It had its tax-exempt status automatically revoked by the IRS in February 2011 for failing to file documentation for three consecutive years.

"I really think things got missed because people thought it was being taken care of," DLP President Mark Parker said, noting that most of its 10-member board has been active in the group for fewer than three years, including him.

The organization is now working with two accounting firms — one looking forward, the other backward — to determine what is owed and what it will take to reapply for the status, Parker and Executive Director Lori Long said Wednesday.

"We don't think there was any malfeasance," he said, but "if we find anything, we'll report it."

The IRS states that organizations that fail to file a Form 990 on time will be fined up to $10,000 or 5 percent of the organization's gross receipts. Based on financial overviews provided to Direct Gates by Ellen Simms, the previous director, those fines would likely not exceed $5,000 a year for the three years.

But, if the DLP can present a "reasonable cause" for failing to file, and completes a number of steps described by the IRS, the taxing agency may retroactively reinstate the tax-exempt status and waive the fines.

The DLP's 2017 budget was $122,125 with event revenues and sponsorships being the largest source of income at $98,615. Its 2017 projected net income was $7,754.

Bernard Barton, a business attorney with the Tampa office of Holland and Knight, said the penalties for failing to file corporate income tax returns after the tax-exempt status was lost will likely be relatively minimal as groups like the DLP rarely show appreciable profits.

And as a practical matter, this kind of low-dollar concern isn't going to draw the IRS to spend staff time and resources to bring the hammer down, he added.

Direct Gates spoke with Parker and Long, who was hired by the DLP in June to be its chief executive, following the group's annual update Wednesday.

During their remarks, Parker and Long spoke about a strong future for downtown, their organization and its signature events, but made no explicit mention of the behind-the-scenes worries.

"We're just looking forward," Long said of the organization's future. "It's going to take a little time to get everything sorted out and moving forward. I think the board is there. We're excited about what's coming."

The organization will be reorganized to make individual responsibilities more explicit and to add checks, or "broad control," to essential operations like finances, Parker said.

Christopher Guinn can be reached at Christopher.Guinn@directgates.com or 863-802-7592. Follow him on Twitter @CGuinnNews.