As New Canaan officials look to establish controls on the acceptance and use of donations to the town, one key issue they're seeking to address is how residents and organizations should specify the purpose of their gifts.

"If people are giving money to the Food Pantry or to the K9 (program), that's what they want to give to," Selectman Beth Jones said at the Board of Selectmen's meeting last week. "They don't want to throw it at the general fund. ... I think it would discourage them from giving at all."

A proposed policy discussed at that meeting would set specific rules guiding how large a donation must be in order to be reported and how long a department can hold on to a gift before it is deposited in the town's general fund.

Although the selectmen agreed the town lacks a well-defined structure for major donations, a vote on the policy -- which is still in draft form -- was tabled so departments have time to weigh in.

"I think people are very emotional about what they give and they have a strong connection with a department, but there has to be a fine line," First Selectman Robert Mallozzi said. "We want to define what is the authority of the first selectman, what has to go to Town Council" and what would not need approval.

Under the draft policy, which includes practices that already are in use, all gifts would have to be reported to the first selectman, who would be authorized to accept donations between $1 and $5,000 on behalf of the town without Board of Selectmen approval. The board would have to approve gifts between $5,001 and $50,000, and donations in excess of $50,000 would need both Board of Selectmen and Town Council approval.

The policy would also set parameters for naming as a condition attached to a gift and require that excess funds, with some exceptions, be deposited in the general fund in no less than two years.

Police Commission Chairman Stuart Sawabini and Police Chief Leon Krolikowski attended the meeting to express their concerns with the policy. Citing the Police Department's K9 program -- for which the department has been collecting donations since summer 2013 -- the commissioner said staffing issues sometimes delay the use of donated funds.

"It may be two or three years before we get to spend them," Sawabini said. "This (proposed policy) indicates there would be a two-year horizon and that would be unrealistic to us."

The K9 program has been in limbo because the department does not have enough police personnel to dedicate an officer to the job.

Krolikowski noted the commission has been working on its own gift policy for a

few months.

"We have a lot of policies internally in the department and we want to make sure that those are consistent with what the town does," he said.

The chief added that seeking approval for every single dollar that is donated could become a burden for potential donors.

"We often will get unsolicited donations," he said. "It's kind of silly that we're rejecting money like that as long as it's been used fiducially."

Mallozzi agreed that having to approve every single gift -- such as a sandwich that was given to a police officer, as Sawabini mentioned -- could be a "cumbersome" process. He was concerned, however, with donations that are too specific and may not benefit the town as a whole.

"It's all wonderful that your departments get recognized with special gifts," he said. "But should that be going that directed or should we ask them to make a contribution to the town so that when the roads are being impaired that there's some offset to it? In other words, it's so directed that the overall town might actually not be as much of a beneficiary of that kind of support as an individual department."

Other groups that often receive donations include the Fire Department, Emergency Medical Services and the Recreation Department.

"I get requests all the time from people who would like to donate a tree, a bench for a park," Recreation Director Stephen Benko said.

Money donated to the town toward specific projects is kept at the special projects account, not the general fund, Finance Director Dawn Norton told the board.

Selectman Nick Williams said a more specific policy, requiring funds to be directed to a specific project, would give "some comfort to the donors."

noliveira@bcnnew.com, 203-330-6582, @olivnelson