To assist in estimating the effects of an I-90 toll upon the faith community of Mercer Island, all churches were contacted and each was asked to provide the percentage of their congregation which live off the island. Nine congregations provided usable estimates of off-islanders and they were MI Congregational, MI Covenant, MI Presbyterian, Holy Trinity Lutheran, Redeemer Lutheran, Herzl-Ner Tamid Conservative Congregation, Emmanuel Episcopal, St. Monica Catholic Church, and First Church of Christ, Scientist.
Results showed that from 16% to 68% of MI congregations consist of off-island people. The average was 39% and the median was 40%. Notable is the fact that the two largest congregations (Herzl-Ner Tamid, St. Monica) serve approximately 2,244 families (not individuals) of which 56% (1,256 families) come from off the island. The smaller congregations have fewer off-island congregants. Considered together, the percentage of total worshippers which are off-island appears to be in the 45 to 50% range.
Implications: If 1/3 of the off-islanders stopped coming to houses of worship on MI with the initiation of tolling (just as the traffic on SR 520 diminished 1/3 when tolling started there), the congregations could decrease by an average of about 15%. Similar budgetary losses would certainly lead to the cutting of services and to a loss of staff. Parochial schools would be hit especially hard. Further, volunteerism within the churches would decrease and the off-island charitable outreach work often done by retired and limited-income people might nearly collapse. Municipal governments do not have the resources to replace what the faith community provides.
Conclusions: The adverse effects of tolling upon the faith community of Mercer Island would be far reaching. Notably diminished attendance, services, staff, outreach, and charitable work must be expected with tolling. Sadly, church budgets are already so tight on the island that diminished funds could threaten the very existence of some of our houses of worship. Please do not support I-90 tolling.
(Ed. Note: The letter above is the opinion of Carl Dodrill, an active member of Mercer Island Presbyterian Church and Mercer Island resident, with concerns about the potential impacts of I-90 tolling upon the Mercer Island faith community. It is not intended to speak for any other body, such as the Presbyterian Church or the Mercer Island Clergy Association.)