A group of West Side church pastors are urging the city of Chicago to restore its water exemption fee that covered many faith-based and nonprofit organizations.
In response, the mayor and city council is considering an ordinance that would allow nonprofits with less than a million dollars in “net assets” a 100 percent exemption on their water bills. Some of the pastors said they’ve seen their water bills nearly double since the new ordinance took effect last year.
Nonprofits had been exempted from paying the full amount of their water bills. The churches have since been lobbying alderman to restore the exemption.
“Many churches will be financially burdened by these water bills that amount to $50,000, $40,000, $10,000, which are seriously impacting their ability to provide services,” said elder Kevin Anthony Ford of St. Paul Church of God In Christ Community Development Ministries Inc.
“Many of these bills are still lingering over the heads of these organizations. We are asking the city to remove that from the billing,” said Ford, who’s one of the leaders of the Interfaith Coalition to Restore the Water Fee Exemption for Religious Institutions.
Chicago churches last year received water bills seeking a 40 percent payment. This year, they were asked to pay 60 percent in water fees, and next year it’s expected to go up to 80 percent if the city doesn’t act. Several of the churches hosted a press conference on June 18 at People’s Church of the Harvest Church of God in Christ, 3570 W. Fifth Ave., to voice their concerns.
“We are challenging the onerous water fees that are causing catastrophic effects to the organizations that provide qualified and quantified services to the people of Chicago,” Ford said.
Rev. C.J. Wright, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church/School, 1511 N. Long, says his church can’t pay 60 percent of its water bill to the city.
“The Chicago Public Schools do not have to pay water bills so why should a Christian school, which is struggling to stay alive, have to pay a water bill?” Wright asked.
But his school and church is valued at roughly $2.6 million, well over the $1 million threshold for nonprofits.
Ford noted that some of the church properties do exceed $1 million in value, but, “with the economy as it is now, and collections down, other parts of the economy have impacted the parishioners’ ability to give.”
For said the pastors asked the city to raise the threshold past $1 million but the city “resisted that.” The churches, he added, also want a redefining of what constitutes “net assets” and urged the city to remove owned land from that definition.
Many of our organizations are land rich and lack funding or financing to provide services to the community,” he said. “It’s our contention that if land and properties remain in the formula, it will create an unfair burden on the churches in that they would be over the $1 million threshold…We are also asking that the ordinance be retroactive to January 1, 2012 to remove the charges that have encumbered operations of these organizations throughout the city of Chicago.”