By Julie Muhlstein Herald Columnist
It’s a go. If you just can’t wait for the Everett Sausage Festival, that may be all you need to know.
A month from now, the north Everett parish grounds of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church will be packed with people. They’ll fill up on sausage and sauerkraut, spin on carnival rides, or enjoy a brew in the beer garden — as festival goers have done for 36 years.
The Sausage Fest, a fundraiser for Catholic education in Everett, will be held Oct. 4- 6. Earlier this year, it wasn’t certain the 2013 Sausage Fest would happen.
Planning for the festival, which is organized by volunteers, was on hold because of concerns about an obscure state law and the property-tax exemption for nonprofit religious groups.
In January, festival supporters, including families from Everett’s Immaculate Conception &Our Lady of Perpetual Help School, testified in Olympia at a hearing before the House Committee on Finance. They pushed for passage of House Bill 1215, which would bring the sausage festival and similar events into full compliance with state law. That hasn’t happened, but the bill isn’t dead.
The bill — sponsored by Reps. Mike Sells and John McCoy, 38th District Democrats representing the Everett area, and Rep. Cindy Ryu, a 32nd District Democrat — had not been voted on when the regular session ended April 28. By resolution, it was reintroduced and retained May 13 during a special session.
Kim Schmanke, spokeswoman for the state Department of Revenue, said Thursday that the Legislature had asked the department to do more work on the issue before the 2014 session begins in January. “We’ve just sent a draft bill to stakeholders for feedback. They’ve been part of our process since the end of the session to find a resolution to the issue,” Schmanke said.
What exactly is the problem? It’s pretty complicated, if all you really want to know is whether or not the 2013 Sausage Festival will happen. It will happen, as the reader-board sign now advertises outside Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church. And, according to an Aug. 30 post on the Everett Sausage Fest’s Facebook page, “This year’s Fest is a ‘go’!”
It was a long-overlooked part of the Washington Administrative Code, related to property tax exemptions for churches, that temporarily put festival planning on hold. The code says use of tax-exempt property for fund-raising does not subject the site to taxation. Yet if any entity profits, according to the code, at least 51 percent of that profit must be given to the group holding the event.
Outside vendors at the Sausage Fest, including carnival rides and professional entertainers, do profit, although overall proceeds benefit the Catholic school.
Sells said earlier this year he believed the original intent of the code was to keep churches from allowing businesses such as used-car lots on their property. The bill that wasn’t passed would have amended existing law by allowing “use of the property for pecuniary gain or business activities, if such use does not exceed fifteen days each assessment year.” It also said rental income must be “reasonable” and devoted to the property’s maintenance or improvements.
Events all over the state are affected by the code, said Greg Magnoni, a spokesman for the Archdiocese of Seattle that oversees Western Washington’s Catholic parishes.
“It became clear the Department of Revenue wanted a comprehensive solution, not specific to one church and one festival. To put that kind of legislation together wasn’t possible because of timing,” Magnoni said Thursday.
Mark Miloscia, a former lobbyist for the Washington State Catholic Conference who also served 14 years as a state lawmaker from Federal Way, said intense meetings were held to discuss the issue before this year’s session ended. Sen. Mike Padden, R-Spokane Valley, and Sister Sharon Park, executive director of the Washington State Catholic Conference, were involved, he said.
“Ultimately, everybody decided to make sure there were no unintended consequences,” Miloscia said.
Magnoni said talks continue, and that the archdiocese is confident the Legislature will take up and solve the issue.
The Everett Sausage Festival and similar fund-raising events “share a common purpose,” Magnoni said. It only makes sense to craft legislation that allows them to fulfill their missions, while complying with the state, he said.
Blessed with an informal grace period, the Everett Sausage Fest is on.
“It’s a tradition,” said Frauna Hoglund, who helped start the festival 37 years ago.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460, firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Everett Sausage Festival is scheduled for Oct. 4-6 on the grounds of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, 2619 Cedar St., Everett. Information: www.everettsausagefest.com