The annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast in Anne Arundel County will take place as scheduled in January, but minus the customary $5,000 from the county — which stunned the planners of the event, now in its 31st year.

Funding for the annual breakfast was not included in the current fiscal year's budget because the organizing group lacks 501(c)(3) nonprofit status and doesn't meet criteria for a grant, said Dave Abrams, spokesman for County Executive John R. Leopold.

The decision drew outrage from former longtime breakfast chairman Carl O. Snowden, who is now the head of the civil rights department in the state attorney general's office. He called it "unconscionable" and railed against the reason and Leopold, saying that top officeholders of both political parties have long backed the event.

He said that the funding could have gone through one of the nonprofits that helps plan the breakfast and that county officials should have told the breakfast planners months ago that the funding mechanism would be changed to require a grant application with a number of requirements.

He described the breakfast, which draws 700 people, as a longtime partnership among a consortium of organizations — most of them African-American — Anne Arundel Community College, county public schools and the county government.

"It's the only event that brings together a cross section of the community and honors Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.," Snowden said.

The organizing group has never been a 501(c)(3).

Last spring, County Auditor Theresa Sutherland recommended not funding the breakfast because of the absence of nonprofit status, Abrams said. Among requirements in grant applications, organizations must show proof of nonprofit status and how the money will be used.

"We got a letter. That doesn't meet the criteria. Everyone else fills out an application form," Abrams said.

"If Mr. Snowden wants a community grant to fund the breakfast, he can establish a 501(c)(3) and fill out an application like every other nonprofit that receives county funding to show that the event is being run in a fiscally responsible manner using taxpayer money," Abrams said.

The county buys a table of seats, he said.

Grants typically go to funding services in the community, he said.

Meanwhile, Eugene Peterson, chairman of the breakfast committee, said he was disappointed when he learned belatedly that the county funding would not come through, and spoke with Snowden about it last week.

He said he expects to ask county officials and probably others to "memorialize the commitment" to help fund the breakfast.

He also said he plans to see if organizers would agree to meet with a lawyer, working for free, to have the breakfast committee organized as a nonprofit organization so that it could boost scholarships. Proceeds from the breakfast help fund a scholarship at the community college.

Meanwhile, the breakfast will take place as scheduled.

Maryland Rep. Elijah E. Cummings will be the featured speaker.

Rep. Donna F. Edwards, a Prince George's County Democrat whose district was changed this fall to include parts of Anne Arundel, will also attend the event at Anne Arundel Community College.

The breakfast will feature for the first time a performing and visual arts contest for middle and high school students. Additionally, two students will share the master of ceremonies role.