Augusta Urban Ministries could lose funds

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North Georgia Methodists plan to scale back on charitable giving in a midyear budget reduction up for a vote today.

A $1 million reduction to the North Georgia Conference's 2009 budget could stymie charitable giving and other areas of ministry, said Jim Showman, a lay delegate of the Augusta District of the United Methodist Church.

He and 3,000 other Methodists are meeting in Athens, Ga., this week for an annual conference that ends Thursday. The event was shortened by a day this year to save money.

Mr. Showman says only 78 percent of member churches last year paid their full apportionments, the contributions the churches make to support the denomination and its programs.

"Without them, we have to make cuts," he said.

A midyear vote for a budget cut is unusual, said Sybil Davidson, a communication assistant with the conference. "It's the first time in anyone's memory we've had a reduction in a current budget."

In addition to the reduction, Methodists will also vote on a $25.9 million budget for 2010, which is $342,000 less than the approved 2009 budget.

The midyear reduction and 2010 budget could leave groups such as Augusta Urban Ministries scrambling. Although the denomination allocated $43,000 to the group in 2009, Augusta Urban Ministries expects to receive less than half that, about $21,000, by the end of the year, Director Rick Herring said.

The monthly allotments subsidize programs such as the ministry's furniture bank, which supplies free furniture and appliances for people in transition.

"Some of it's donated, but some of it we have to buy, like new beds and mattress sets," Mr. Herring said. "We're finding now that that's not something we can afford."

Mr. Herring said he hopes Methodists will reverse course and restore some of the funding for 2010, but that doesn't seem likely, said Jim Dickens, the president and chief executive officer of Action Ministries, the Atlanta-based nonprofit that created Augusta Urban Ministries.

Contributions from the denomination make up about 15 percent of Augusta Urban Ministries' funds. The rest comes from a few government grants and private donations, which are also falling, Mr. Dickens said.

"We're nowhere near what we were pledged. People aren't saying no; they're saying they just need more time," he said.

Mr. Herring says he isn't sure of the long-term impact of the cut. The group relies on volunteers to help with the Hale Street furniture bank and other outreaches, including transitional housing, a coat and blanket drive, and a service that prepares state and federal taxes for low-income and elderly clients.

"The people who need help the most are the ones affected by this," Mr. Herring said. "In a faith-based term, it's the least among us."

Reach Kelly Jasper at (706) 823-3552 or kelly.jasper@augustachronicle.com.

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