Cecil County Commissioners Get Slots Grant Proposals; Anti-Abortion/Pro-Pregnancy Religious Group Proposed for $30K Gift
Cecil County Commissioners on Tuesday received a list of proposed recipients for grants from a $500,000 set-aside of local impact aid to the county from the Hollywood Casino in Perryville. Local fire companies and the Town of Port Deposit were the top recipients, but there were some surprises– including $30,000 to the Cecil County Pregnancy Center, an Elkton anti-abortion/pregnancy support program.
The Cecil County Pregnancy Center, a faith-based group that currently operates a storefront office in the 200 block South Bridge St. in Elkton that is open three days a week for three hours a day, wants to open another office in the western county near the casino. (The grants program requires recipients to provide services relating to impacts from the casino in the area west of Route 272.)
In contrast, the highly respected Susquehanna Workforce Network, with a long track record of job training and help for the unemployed, would only get $50,000 for its proposed program of “skill enhancement and occupational training” to western county residents.
An advisory panel appointed by the County Commissioners reviewed 64 applications seeking a total of $3.5 million, including 47 non-profit groups and 17 municipalities that applied for aid. Proposals were ranked by panel members on a scale of benefits to the community.
Top recipients on the list were fire and emergency services, with the town of Perryville proposed for $72,436 for hiring two EMS responders and $16,705 for replacement of fire hoses. The nearby Water Witch fire company in Port Deposit was proposed for $25,032 to purchase a cardiac monitor/defibrillator unit. Water Witch officials have said they are receiving multiple calls for emergency aid at the casino, but the town has not previously been allocated any aid to offset costs.
In addition, the town of Port Deposit was proposed for another $105,100 in impact aid for several projects, including creating a visitor center for the many tourists traveling through the town on the way to the Perryville casino. Town officials have said they face increased traffic due to the casino.
Veterans’ organizations in Perryville, Port Deposit and North East were proposed for a total of $47,808 to compensate them for lost income from their charitable gaming activities due to the nearby casino. The veterans’ groups donate at least half of their revenues to local charities and use the balance to support their veterans’ programs.
The Pregnancy Center was slated for one of the largest individual grants to a non-profit group, with a $30,000 earmark. A Cecil Times review of the group’s filings with the federal Internal Revenue Service shows that the organization has more than enough cash on hand to open a western county office if it chose to spend its own money to do so.
The center offers classes to expectant mothers and uses an ultrasound machine to try to deter pregnant women from having abortions. The center describes itself in filings with the IRS as “a faith-based organization.”
According to its filings with the IRS for calendar year 2009, filed 11/17/10 with the federal government, the center showed it had cash on hand of $36,363 at the end of the year—or more than the $30,000 it wants to get from Cecil County government to expand its operations to the western area of the county.
The Pregnancy Center lists ‘gross receipts” of $83,649 but does not break out sources of income and does not identify the source of a grant it received. Its largest expenses were salaries, rent and printing costs.
Cecil Times has contacted state legal authorities on the propriety of the county government writing a check to an advocacy group such as the Pregnancy Center. Comment was not immediately available but we will update this report upon their response.
[UPDATE: A spokeswoman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland responded, via email, that while the use of casino impact aid to give funds to a "crisic pregnancy center" is new, there are general legal guidelines that would apply in the Cecil County case:
"Crisis pregnancy centers must spend government funds only for secular “social service” activities and must have accounting practices demonstrating that that is the case. There should be a written agreement with safeguards and monitoring to ensure county oversight of the use of the funds and ensure taxpayer dollars are not spent for religious purposes or proselytizing.
Around the country, CPCs have given women medically inaccurate information and have sought to persuade and even coerce women's reproductive decisions – not inform them. The ACLU believes that taxpayer dollars should only be spent to support women's reproductive health services that provide medically accurate information and are not coercive."]
The advisory panel appointed by the County Commissioners included the Rev. Harold Phillips, pastor of Pleasant View Baptist Church, who was an active opponent of the slots parlor in Perryville and hosted anti-slots meetings with local political candidates. However, Rev. Phillips did not participate in the panel’s deliberations, county officials said, and instead named a member of his congregation to sit on the panel in his place.
On Tuesday, the County Commissioners made no decisions on the proposed list of grant recipients and some members questioned whether the town of Perryville should get any of the county funds, since the town is entitled to 35 percent of the local impact aid from the casino under a previous agreement.
The town and the county are locked in a feud over how to distribute the money and the town has yet to receive any of its share of the over $4 million in total impact aid generated by the Perryville casino.
[UPDATE: At the request of our readers, we are posting a Google Documents link to the impact grants rating list which shows amount of funds, recipient, and ranking by the advisory panel. The document shows all applicants in the order in which their proposals were ranked: