Pierce County Council OKs $271 million budget

After outcry, council members remove $7,000 allotment for Child Evangelism Fellowship for violence prevention

Staff writerNovember 20, 2013 

The Pierce County Council on Tuesday adopted a $271 million budget for core government services next year. But it was a potential sliver of that total that ignited an outcry leading to its removal.

A half-dozen people spoke out against a $7,000 allocation for Child Evangelism Fellowship of Pierce County from the budget for youth violence prevention. Dozens more had objected via the county’s website.

Linda Isenson of Steilacoom said she doesn’t believe any public money should go to any religious organization. As a Jew, she said, “I found this particularly offensive.”

Cheryl Kopec of Tacoma said she’s a Christian. But the funding was “discriminatory against people who are not of my faith,” she said.

Councilman Jim McCune, R-Graham, added Child Evangelism Fellowship to a list of more than a dozen groups to receive a total of $166,230 for youth violence prevention services and programs.

The council, which added the $166,230 to correct a technical error in County Executive Pat McCarthy’s proposed budget, approved the list of recipients by a 7-0 vote Nov. 12. The total youth violence prevention budget for next year is $1.6 million.

McCune said the U.S. Constitution permits religious organizations to receive government money. But he said he was “reluctantly” removing the expenditure.

“I’m pulling this because I don’t want to have my fellow council members disrupted,” he said.

McCune proposed shifting the money to two other groups: $2,500 to Changing Rein Equine Assisted Activities & Therapies and $4,500 to 4-H in Graham.

The council approved McCune’s amendment unanimously.

Councilwoman Connie Ladenburg, D-Tacoma, proposed amending the county budget to include language from the state constitution. It read: “No county money shall be appropriated for or applied to any religious worship, exercise or instruction, or the support of any religious establishment.”

The council defeated Ladenburg’s amendment.

Sam Mulvey, president of Humanists of Washington, said he was glad the council removed the money for Child Evangelism Fellowship. But Mulvey, of Tacoma, said he objected to another Christian organization – Young Life – receiving $15,000 in the 2014 budget for its Anderson Island camp. The council didn’t address that budget item.

Council attorney Susan Long said faith-based organizations who receive money from the county are required to enter into contracts providing that the county dollars can’t be used for religious activities such as worship, religious instruction or proselytizing. Marlene Stoll, director of Child Evangelism Fellowship of Pierce County, said the money would have been used to rent space at fairs for activities that include telling Bible stories. Stoll said she accepted the council’s decision.

“We’re OK with it because we want to abide by the laws of the land,” Stoll said.

The council unanimously approved the 2014 budget, adding nearly $1 million to McCarthy’s proposal for the general fund. The general fund for core government services still decreased from $276.3 million this year to $271.1 million. That’s largely due to moving $10 million for building and permitting activities into a separate, dedicated account.

The total budget is $978.1 million, an 8 percent increase over this year’s budget. That hike is primarily because of construction costs for expanding the county’s sewage treatment facility in University Place.

The budget funds 3,007 full-time equivalent positions, 10 more positions than in 2013. Of those, five go to Planning & Land Services for building activities. The Assessor-Treasurer’s Office received funding for two additional appraisers.

Steve Maynard: 253-597-8647

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