SOUTHWEST FLORIDA: Diocese eases parish obligations

December 3, 2008

Anticipating that economic hard times will persist in 2009, the Diocese of Southwest Florida is giving congregations its own version of a one-year economic stimulus package by lowering apportionment payments by 20 percent.

The Diocesan Council approved a plan Nov. 22 that will require the diocese's 77 congregations to give only 8 percent of their yearly incomes to the diocese, instead of the normal 10 percent, making it one of the lowest apportionment rates in the Episcopal Church.

These apportionment payments provide the bulk of the diocesan budget. According to figures provided by Chief Financial Officer George McLaughlin, the cuts will leave a $588,656 gap. McLaughlin and Finance Committee Chair Al Getz have already begun the task of rebalancing the budget. Diocesan staff raises for 2009 have been reduced; other adjustments will be made throughout the coming year in order to make up for the lost revenue.

"The bishop felt this was something that needed to be done," McLaughlin told Council. Bishop Dabney Smith was absent from the council meeting, attending the consecration of Bishop Andrew Doyle in the Diocese of Texas.

The diocese calculates the amount due from each church every year by using parochial report data from two years prior. Getz said he talked to many delegates at last month's diocesan convention concerned about their parish's ability to pay apportionments in 2009 based on much rosier 2007 data. The finance committee, which also unanimously approved the apportionment rate cut before presenting it to Council, was committed to "do something to help these parishes," Getz said.

McLaughlin and Getz assured council the diocese was not going to be put in dire financial trouble because there are sufficient funds available to keep the diocese going. "We won't have to go for a loan," Getz said.

Their assurances came amid some other startling news. McLaughlin said the diocese's investment portfolio, managed by the Episcopal Church Foundation, declined last month to $4.7 million from $5.2 million due to stock market turmoil. "The stock market always comes back," McLaughlin told Council. "It's not good, but it's not a panic thing. Yes, we had a bad thing happen but it's a not the end of the world," he said. "We'll bounce back."