Several county churches that rent public schools on Sundays expect to face financial hardship when the school system raises their rent byas much as 10 percent this fall.
At a recent meeting, the school board approved continued use by the churches, but representatives of some churches expressed doubt whether they would be able to afford the new rates, says Bill Peacock, of the school system's planning and construction department.
Right now, the average church pays $211.50 to rent a county school for three hours on Sunday. Rental costs vary, depending on the sizeof the room and how long the church needs to use it, Peacock says. The basic fees are $29.50 an hour plus $30.75 an hour for custodial costs.
The price will increase on Oct. 1 when the new school budget goes into effect.
It is the first significant raise in two years, says Peacock, adding that the rates are adjusted almost annually for increased costs of paying custodians and heat and light bills.
"I'm sure (churches) think it's too high," Peacock says. "But I think ifthey tried to rent space somewhere else they would pay more."
Several churches contacted say they have not heard about the rate increase. But those that have fear they will have to cut church programs topay their rent, ministers say.
At the fledgling Community Church,which meets in an Annapolis elementary school, the rent is already too high, says pastor Dennis Rigstad.
"If the board raises the rates, it certainly is going to impact the church," he says. "It's going to be absolutely harder."
The church's June rent topped $900, and if the rent increases, the 50-member church will have to cut back on its social outreach programs, such as a ministry to drug addicts and alcoholics in the Annapolis area.
"We have people working with thechemically dependent, or those just off chemicals, who still have emotional problems, but (such outreach programs) take money. The more the school board raises the rate, the less we can do this."
"I've communicated to the board it's in their interest for churches to have such programs," Rigstad adds. "What we're doing is building healthy families. Every dysfunctional family that we help, that's that much less problem for the schools. It's a community improvement effort."
Other churches also face higher rents with trepidation. Says the Rev.Michael W. Hubers, pastor of the Fellowship Baptist Church, "Obviously any increase is a hardship. It's a tremendous burden as it is, to pay the cost they're asking."
The church meets in the multi-purpose room of the George Cromwell Elementary School in Ferndale but hopesto break ground in October for an 11,000-square-foot building of itsown.
In the meantime, Hubers says the church is grateful to have a place to meet, but wonders if the school system is trying to "bring(churches renting) to a halt."
Ten churches are renting multipurpose rooms, mostly at the elementary schools, Peacock says. The rooms are usually used to serve school lunches during the week. The denominations range from a Lutheran church that meets at Jessup Elementary School to an Evangelical Presbyterian church gathering at Broadneck.
While non-profit groups pay only an operation maintenance cost and a custodian cost, church groups are classed with commercial groups, which also must pay a space rental fee.