LOUISVILLE – The Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) is considering what’s being described as a “joyous” budget for 2019 and 2020 – a budget that would include a per capita increase from $7.73 per member in 2018 to $10.11 in 2019 and $10.82 in 2020.
That would amount to a 30 percent per capita increase from 2018 to 2019, and overall a 44 percent increase from the current rate of $7.50 per member in 2017 to $10.82 per member in 2020.
In presenting this budget for discussion now, leaders of the Office of the General Assembly (OGA) are testing the waters – it won’t come up for a formal vote until COGA’s meeting in Feb. 6-8, 2018, and potentially could be revised before then. And even from COGA members, there was some initial pushback.
J. Herbert Nelson, stated clerk of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), said the proposed budget is structured to allow OGA to better serve the church – including providing leadership training and support for mid councils.
“We need to bring it with joy, and not trepidation,” said John Wood, who works for OGA and is part of OGA’s budget team. “This is for the whole church,” and reflects “a posture of abundance, and not scarcity.”
Wood also said: “We can’t live in the church we want to live in by having cost control” as the only priority. “We need to be helping the mid councils. We need to be where the need is.”
The OGA revised budget for 2018 comes to $13.9 million, while the proposals being considered are for $14.7 million for 2019 and just over $15 million for 2020. Any change in per capita would need approval from the 2018 General Assembly.
Wood acknowledged that “this is a heavy lift” – trying to communicate to the broader church why a per capita increase of more than $3 per member is needed from 2018 to 2020. But he also said per capita increases in the past were kept below what really was needed to do the work, in an effort to control costs.
“Is it enough?” asked Barbara Gaddis, a minister from Iowa who serves as COGA’s moderator. “Should we ask for more? If we’re going to start talking about abundance, what do we need?”
Jan Edmiston, co-moderator of the 2016 General Assembly, asked whether leadership training would include elders as well as ministers. Nelson said that’s the intent – and
Kerry Rice, deputy stated clerk, said the budget document doesn’t reflect all the initiatives being considered (for example, not all the ideas for supporting mid councils are directly reflected in the budget for mid council ministries). “The budget is more linear,” Nelson said. “Our work is more fluid.”
Some COGA members voiced skepticism about whether such a big increase would fly without a better explanation of why it’s needed.
Andy James, who serves on the staff of the Presbytery of New Hope in North Carolina, said that for his presbytery the cost of the proposed increase “would be the equivalent of adding a staff person.” James said he’s not sure if people there would “see the value to the presbytery in paying $75,000 more in per capita rather than having another staff person on the job who can be working in all the churches.”
The challenge is making sure “we have something good to sell,” James said. “At this point, I’m not sure we have it.”
Lynn Hargrove, stated clerk of the Presbytery of New Covenant in Texas, said her presbytery already is facing staff reductions, and this proposal would bring another $40,000 in costs. “We’re cutting positions and beloved people,” Hargrove said. “It’s going to be a tough sell. I continue to say ‘Please involve mid councils in some of this.’ We’re having to do the interpretation, and I don’t feel we’re being involved.”
The intent and hope is “that we engage mid councils as partners in this,” Rice said – not as competition or a conduit for funding. “If we can help each other promote per capita, we both win.”
OGA needs to provide new, better interpretive materials that explain “here’s what your per capita dollars will do, and make it real for them in your congregations,” Rice said. “I don’t think we’ve done that kind of interpretation before.”
Eliana Maxim, a mid council executive from Seattle, said she wants to “hear about these tangible interpretations before I hear about per capita going up.” Otherwise, “we go into panic mode” if the order is reversed.
In the Pacific Northwest, “right now we’ve got churches balking at paying per capita, because they don’t see the value added.” When congregations are struggling with litigation over property or are searching for a new pastor, “it’s my colleague and I that go out” to help.
Maxim suggested that before OGA presents a proposed budget, “let’s come up with a comprehensive plan with a variety of people at the table. Let’s get all the different caucuses and advocacy groups involved, and let them tell us what they need” for leadership development – rather than OGA telling those groups what leadership training they intend to provide.
In other words, “spin out the vision first,” Rice responded. And then say, “here’s what the vision is going to cost.”
Wood also presented an update on OGA’s current budget.
The immediate financial situation shows expenses under budget by $279,000 as of June 2017, due to efforts at cost control and from staff vacancies – producing what the report describes as a “strong financial position with minimal debt.” OGA expects expenses to be about 5 to 6 percent under budget for all of 2017.
But there are signs of difficulty ahead, particularly if the per capita rate doesn’t rise.
The report states that “if we continue at the same apportionment rate, OGA reserves will exceed required amounts” by 2020.
The uncollectable per capita apportionment for 2017 is $200,000 greater than anticipated – in other words, the amount that’s not being collected is higher than what had been expected. And the uncollectable reserve is now 11.3 percent of per capita revenue (compared to a historic rate of 5 to 6 percent through 2013).
Paying for overhead costs (often referred to as shared services) also is proving difficult for OGA. Shared services is the term OGA and the Presbyterian Mission Agency (PMA) use to described administrative costs charged for shared services such as human resources, accounting and legal services.
For OGA, the shared services costs for 2017 come to 30 percent of the per capita apportionment (minus uncollectable amounts) – or $3.2 million. That compares to a shared services cost in 2009 of $2.89 million, or 21 percent of the per capita apportionment minus uncollectable amounts.
The report states that “shared services cost percentage will continue to increase as available funds diminish.”
A ministerial team of the Presbyterian Mission Agency Board has been looking in depth at how shared services costs are handled, and is expected to consider a report on Sept. 22 that concludes that the costs are fair and that the Presbyterian Mission Agency should move to charging a flat fee across departments to cover overhead costs (with a few exceptions).
A joint work group from the Way Forward Commission and the All Agency Review Committee also is looking both at shared services and at the structure and functioning of PC(USA), A Corporation, the corporate entity for OGA and PMA.