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Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Sussex County Council Criticized Over Religious Grants

GEORGETOWN, Del. - The Sussex County Council is facing a new round of criticism for approving grants to religious groups.
"I don't care what church it is," said Dan Kramer of Greenwood. "Don't come in here and ask for tax dollars. It's not your money. It's the taxpayers' money."
In April, the council approved three grants for so-called "community events" held by area churches totaling $1,050. The move raises questions over the use of tax dollars at religiously sponsored events.
"I've raised objections year in and year out but they don't care," Kramer said.
Last month's requests came from the Church of God, Grace United Methodist Church and New Zion United Methodist Church.
The practice is not new; a random review of council meeting minutes showed other instances where grant money was approved for church-run events. On April 5, 2011 council approved $250 for Dagsboro Church of God to hold an Easter egg hunt.
The county defended its decisions claiming the events are open to the public and any non-profit group can apply for the money.
"We do not discriminate against non-profits throughout the county," said county finance director Susan Webb. "If it is a church or religious organization, the grant must be used for anyone in the community to participate in that activity."
The money is part of discretionary grant funding. The council set aside $150,000 in this year's budget for the program. According to guidelines approved in 2009, Webb said applicants must have non-profit status and submit a written request and explanation for the money. Eligible events must somehow benefit the county or community, Webb said.
The council reviews the requests weekly. The funds benefit farmers' markets, holiday festivals, little leagues and fire departments, just to name a few. Most grants range from $100 to $1,000, but some go higher. Each council person is allowed $30,000, though a majority of the council must approve the request.
But debate over the church grants led Councilman George Cole, R-Ocean View, to call for a review of the grant guidelines.
"I think the whole council needs to review these and look to see if there's anyway we can tighten them up, improve on them and maybe put some guidelines and some restrictions on the money we give out," said Cole.
Cole hoped his request would provide some guidance on funding for all applicants, not only churches. The councilman noted some requests by individuals are given more money than applications representing groups of up to 20 people.

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