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CASA suffers funding setback

April 11, 2001

CASA suffers funding setback



By LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

Efforts to combat domestic violence in Washington County will suffer unless a local nonprofit is able to recoup an unexpected loss of money, its executive director said Wednesday.

Citizens Assisting and Sheltering the Abused, known as CASA, stands to lose $5,750 that was expected to come from a $5 increase in the county's marriage license fee.

A state Senate committee chairman killed the fee increase on the last day of the Maryland General Assembly session Monday.

CASA Executive Director Vicki Sadehvandi said every piece of the agency's $700,000 annual budget is crucial.

"That money would have really meant a lot to us. It certainly will have an impact on the ability to provide services," she said.

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The cut probably will be applied across the board at a time when demands for domestic violence services are increasing, she said.

CASA served 1,826 people last year, counseling batterers and their victims and temporarily sheltering abused women and their children. In addition, the agency's hotline handled 18,611 calls for help.

About two years ago, CASA began contacting every family affected by domestic violence using information supplied to them by local police agencies.

CASA gets money from state and local government, United Way, and more than a dozen other funding sources.

Relying on the marriage license fee increase, the Washington County Commissioners had earmarked $137,750 for CASA in next year's budget.

The commissioners will discuss how to respond to the cut at an upcoming meeting, said Commissioners President Gregory I. Snook.

Recognizing the need to fund domestic violence services, the commissioners had originally sought a $15 increase in the marriage license fee, Snook said.

But the Washington County delegation to the Maryland General Assembly would only agree to increase the fee from $60 to $65.

Because the legislature generally defers to local lawmakers on local matters, it was expected to pass.

But on Monday, Senate Judicial Proceedings Committee Chairman Sen. Walter M. Baker said he would kill the fee increase by not letting his committee take a vote.

Local lawmakers were surprised, although none challenged the decision of the powerful Eastern Shore Democrat, who said he believed the high fee would hurt the institution of marriage.

Sen. Alex X. Mooney had sent a letter to Baker on Friday, asking him to bring the issue up for a vote. Mooney, R-Frederick/Washington, wrote the letter despite his personal opposition to the fee increase.

If Mooney had supported the increase, perhaps he could have convinced Baker to let it pass, Sadehvandi said.

She disputed the notion that an extra $5 would discourage anyone from getting married.

Sadehvandi thanked the commissioners and local lawmakers for seeking the fee increase.

Officials have not decided whether they'll seek the fee increase again next year or find another source of funding.

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