At its Oct. 29 meeting, the Committee on the Office of the General Assembly (COGA) voted to write off about $315,000 in unpaid per capita assessments for 2009, in addition to the $600,000 it had already budgeted.

Per capita is a per member assessment that all congregations pay to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). The per capita requested from each congregation is a combined total of requests from its presbytery, synod and the General Assembly. Congregations pay per capita to their presbyteries, which then submit the money to OGA.

The  General Assembly per capita rate is set by the General Assembly. For 2009 and 2010, the 2008 Assembly set the rate at $6.15 per member. This year’s Assembly set the 2011 rate at $6.50.

There are several reasons for the uncollectible per capita, said Christopher Nicholas, budget manager for the stated clerk in OGA. The poor economy is a factor, he said, as are a few churches in each of 16 presbyteries that are withholding funds; three presbyteries that say their congregations have lost members; four presbyteries that have reported financial problems; and  42 presbyteries that are paying only what they have received from congregations.

More than one-third of the 65 presbyteries with outstanding per capita balances owe less than $5,000. More than half owe less than $10,000 and two-thirds owe less than $15,000.

On the other end of the spectrum, four presbyteries owe more than $50,000 and another nine presbyteries owe more than $25,000. Taken together, those 13 presbyteries make up well more than half of the unpaid per capita.

Presbyteries have historically paid the per capita assessments for their congregations who couldn’t or wouldn’t pay the assessment.

Per capita dollars fund a variety of ecclesiastical functions of the denomination, including the biennial meeting of the General Assembly, Church Leadership Connection and constitutional services. Click here for a detailed list. About one-third of General Assembly per capita underwrites the administrative and meeting expenses of the General Assembly Mission Council.