The controversy regarding Montgomery County’s $750 grant to the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs may be progressing toward compromise.
Amsterdam City Supervisor Jeff Stark drafted a resolution proposing a possible compromise that will be discussed at tonight’s Economic Development Committee meeting.
“We’re a county that represents all kinds of people,” Stark said. “I don’t want people taking us to task for such a small amount of money. It’s our job to set guidelines of how the money is used, to make sure it is constitutional.”
The grant was originally awarded to help the shrine get ready for its Oct. 21 celebration of the canonization of Kateri Tekakwitha, an event expected to bring over 2,000 people to the area.
Stark’s resolution proposes setting guidelines limiting the shrine’s use of the $750 to secular purposes rather than religious ones. For example, the shrine could use the grant for advertising but not the purchase of religious texts.
If the committee passes the resolution, it will go on to the main board meeting April 24, where it could be further passed, amended, or dropped, according to County Attorney Douglas Landon.
Stark and Landon agree that the grant was awarded purely to promote tourism.
“It’s in our best interest to promote tourism. Having people come here in the middle of October for whatever reason is a good thing,” Stark said. “Unemployment is high. We’re a poor county. We need those sales tax dollars, but we also need a resolution that satisfies everyone.”
Landon has looked into the legality of the grant since it was proposed, and doesn’t see a problem.
“I did look into some case law as it applies to the issue,” Landon said. “Based on that, and the purpose of the award, I don’t think it violates the Constitution. So I didn’t feel compelled to tell the board to rescind it.”
Stark did not initially see a problem with the grant but, since the controversy, has considered compromise the best option.
“Why would we want to accrue liability?” Stark asked.
Landon is still not sure on the best course of action.
“I don’t disagree with anything in the resolution,” Landon said. “I just don’t know if it’s necessary.”
As for the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs, Beth Lynch, shrine event coordinator, maintains the possible strictures on their grant will not affect their events.
“We’re having a celebration, and we’re going forward with that,” Lynch said. “We’re grateful for whatever Montgomery County decides.”