SUMMERVILLE — Summerville has illegally supported the Santa in Uniform charity for years, according to officials.

It’s illegal for a municipality to donate money to private and non-profit organizations, according to City Attorney Albert Palmour.

The city was allowing the Santa in Uniform charity to use the Summerville Recreation Center for an annual basketball fundraiser. Traditionally, the city allowed the charity to use the facility for free.

The city stopped paying for the referees and scorekeepers in December after the attorney notified the mayor about the illegal practice.

The decision to stop paying referees came abruptly and without warning, according to Summerville Police Chief Stan Mosley.

“We understand where it is coming from. We understand what the attor-ney is saying. The only thing. . . it came mid-tournament. But other than that, we are fine,” Chief Mosley said.

Three days into a weeklong basketball tournament, the mayor visited and informed Fire Chief Robbie Lathem that the city will not pay for two scorekeepers and nine referees.

The charity used a portion of its profit to pay $1,848 for the referees and scorekeepers.

The Santa in Uniform program sponsors $100 shopping sprees for less fortunate Chattooga County children at Christmas. Local cops and firemen used to operate the program at Summerville City Hall until a clerk discovered money was missing.

A GBI investigation started in October to discover where the thousands in donations went. That revelation of missing funds almost killed the pro-gram. Cops and firemen, however, vowed they would not disappoint the children at Christmas time and decided to keep the program.