- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Montgomery County, Md., has withdrawn a no-fee exemption that allows the Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts to use county facilities free of charge.
The exemption was removed in fairness to other nonprofit groups, including the Boys and Girls Club of America, who pay $3 per hour to use the facilities, said Ginny Gong, community use of public facilities director. She said the fee is used to reimburse facilities for the "wear and tear" of meetings.
Curtis Pruett, director of marketing for the National Capital Area Council of the Boy Scouts of America, couldn't estimate how much the $3 fee will cost the Scouts because some troops are sponsored by private organizations, such as churches or civic groups. There are about 8,300 Boy Scouts and 7,500 Girl Scouts in the county.
"It's something we need to work with," Mr. Pruett said. "It's certainly going to be a financial obligation to pay for something we haven't been paying for."
Neither Ms. Gong nor Mr. Pruett could remember how long the exemption has been in effect or why it was implemented in the first place.
Most Scout meetings are about two hours long, and could cost each troop about $240 per year. Ms. Gong estimated the Scouts use public facilities about 17,000 hours in the calendar year.
"As far as changing the fee, this is an equity issue," she said. But she also conceded the Supreme Court decision last June affirming the Boy Scouts' right to bar homosexuals from joining caused the county to take another look at the scouts' special status.
"I will have to say that [the Supreme Court decision] probably triggered the board to reconsider this exemption," said Ms. Gong, a former Girl Scout leader.
The decision has not triggered the kind of furor seen in November, when 50 Scout supporters testified at an Anne Arundel County school board meeting when the county considered severing its relationship with the Scouts, but it has not gone unnoticed.
"There's been a very active letter-writing campaign, and we've addressed it," Ms. Gong said.
She pointed out that the county has allowed the Scouts to set up a payment plan and charged Scouts only the $3 per hour rate. Rental space after 6:30 p.m. when Scouts usually hold their meetings usually costs $5 an hour.
But both the scouts and the county agree that the withdrawal of the exemption doesn't mean the county is planning to end its relationship with the Scouts.
"I think we've been very accommodating and by no means is this arrangement cutting back on our relationship," Ms. Gong said. "The First Amendment protects their right to use this space."
Mr. Pruett praised the grass-roots support his organization enjoys and said the Scouts could seek more sponsorship to defray the county's charges. He also suggested that the Boy Scouts could hold another fund-raiser.
The Boy Scouts sell popcorn once a year, a fund-raiser that is less well-known than the Girl Scouts' cookie drive.
"I think we feel fortunate and happy that for the last decades the Scouts have been able to utilize those buildings," Mr. Pruett said.

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