Town leaders rehashed some of the ages-old concept of keeping church and state separate as they pared down requests by local nonprofits seeking town funding.
The Town Board ultimately approved $2,500 total funding to three nonprofits, tabled a decision on a request by a group it has supported for the past four years, and turned down four other requests.
Commissioner Curtis Strickland was quick to point out at Monday’s meeting that the request for $1,000 for the Zebulon Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast was submitted by Annie Jean Moore on behalf of Zebulon First Baptist Church.
“It’s a religious affiliation, and I think we should separate church and state,” Strickland said.
Mayor Bob Matheny acknowledged the annual breakfast is held at Zebulon Baptist Church and is affiliated with many other local churches. But he and Commissioner Dale Beck, who is a member of the MJK Jr. breakfast committee, said the breakfast is what is being funded – not a church.
Strickland said he just wanted the application to say something other than a church name, and the board approved funding $500 to the cause with clarification that the check will be made to the MLK Jr. breakfast committee.
“There’s not just one church involved in this thing, it’s a group of people,” Beck said. “I’m not concerned one bit about this.”
Strickland’s point seemed to register with other board members, however, as they denied a request for $5,000 to support Shiloh Temple’s community day, which includes a giveaway of book bags filled with school supplies for area students.
“I think Curtis is onto something,” Matheny said. “I believe we’re going to open a real can of worms if we start donating money to churches.”
Strickland said he would love to help, but that the application submitted by Bishop Larnell Phillips was in the church’s name.
“I just want to help this group,” Strickland said. “I know what they do. If our check could be written to ‘Book Bags for East Wake Kids,’ or (something), that’s what I’m saying.”
Beck and Commissioner Don Bumgarner echoed the others’ points. Bumgarner said approving this request would open the door to funding events at other churches.
“You’ve got a wonderful program, sir, and I appreciate that,” Bumgarner said, addressing Phillips. “But, then again, the Methodist church has a great program too. … The town does not have the ability as I see it to finance churches.”
The board asked Phillips if he has another nonprofit entity the request could be filed through, and he said he has one pending.
“Maybe if they could come back next year … we could help them out,” Beck said. “But not as a church.”
Mix of old and new
The town has doled out the same amount of funding to the same four groups for the past four years: $1,000 each to the Zebulon Chamber of Commerce, Shepherd’s Care Medical Clinic and the East Wake Education Foundation, and $500 to the MLK Jr. breakfast.
The board granted the education foundation’s request for $1,000 Monday, and approved a new, $1,000 request by Raleigh-based InterAct, which serves victims of domestic violence and sexual assault in Wake County.
Shepherd’s Care had its request for $2,000 tabled because commissioners wanted more information about the recent partnership with a mental health group that is enabling the clinic to serve Medicaid patients for the first time. The town has a nonprofit funding cap of $5,000 and no more than $1,000 can be awarded to any single entity, meaning there is more than enough to allow up to $1,000 for the free and charitable clinic if commissioners chose to do so.
The Zebulon Chamber of Commerce was one of the nine nonprofit organizations that submitted applications in March, but was not considered with the others Monday because the Town Board had already earmarked $10,000 for a community and economic development partnership with the chamber as part of the budget passed in June.
Town staff confirmed that the $1,000 the town had given the chamber in past years was factored into the new, $10,000 partnership.
Three others denied
Aside from Shiloh Temple’s request, other requests turned down by the board were as follows:
▪ Communities in Schools of Wake County, which works to surround students with a community of support, empowering them to stay in school and achieve in life, $2,500;
▪ Kindred Spirits Farm, which provides individuals – often middle school-age youth – and families who may be at risk socially, emotionally disabled, abused or neglected, with therapeutic support through activities involving horses, $1,000;
▪ Raleigh-based Hopeline, which provides crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline services, $500.