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Clergy:  “Paying water bills is double taxation and wrong”

By Chinta Strausberg


Today, a group of religious leaders is going to City Hall to plead their case as to why the city should restore the water fee exemption, and they are prepared to prove their bills are hurting their ability to care for the poor and the downtrodden, which is the core of their mission from God.

The Interfaith Coalition to Restore the Water Fee Exemption for Religious Institutions will be lobbying aldermen to either amend  or pass an ordinance that will restore the water fee exemption.

Coalition members are concerned that their water bills coupled with the city’s order to install meters will devastate their budgets. One minister isn’t sure how he can pay a more than $7,000 water bill.

Rev. Joseph L. Napier, Sr., pastor of the Ward Memorial Baptist Church, 4820 S. Prairie Avenue, owes more than $7,600 in water fees. “We don’t have the money to pay it,” he told the coalition. More than a year ago, his water was cut off but he received help from Springfield. Today he is faced with a huge water bill and isn’t sure how he can pay it and still keep his church doors open at the same time.

“They have broken the tradition, the favor and privilege that was extended to churches traditionally,” Napier said. “The members are already being taxed with water. There ought to be one place that is not double taxed and that is the house of God. It’s double taxation.”

More than three-dozen ministers met Tuesday at the St. Paul Church of God In Christ Community Development Ministries, Inc., 4550 S. Wabash Avenue, headed by Elder Kevin Anthony Ford.  The diverse coalition includes Jimmy Lago, Chancellor, Archdiocese of Chicago, Rev. Michael Eaddy, pastor of the Peoples Church of the Harvest, Rev. Leonard DeVille, the former alderman of the 21st Ward and pastor of the Alpha Temple Baptist Church and many others.

Elder Ford said, “We are going to come in with empirical evidence to sustain our belief that the churches and the other religious institutions in the city of Chicago are deserving of the water exemption based upon in-kind services and unfunded mandates that we provide throughout the city of Chicago.”

In the meantime, Rev. Stanley L. Davis, Jr., co-executive director of the Council of Religious Leaders of metropolitan Chicago, said the religious leaders are to return their letter son church letterhead laying out the services they provide and the impact paying water bills will have on their institutions by next Tuesday. He asked them to talk to the aldermen to get their support to vote in favor of restoring the water fee exemption.

Rev. Marshall Hatch, pastor of the New Mount Pilgrim Baptist Church, said, “The church belongs to the people” and referring to forcing religious leaders to pay for water when for decades they had been exempt, he added, “It’s not right.” “These are non-profits….Before you know it they will be treating us like a business. We‘re God’s business. These are non-profits….

“Why would you tax the one place where people in most pain go and get help. That just ain’t right,” said Hatch. “The church is the community. The church is the people….”

Eaddy urged the religious leaders to turn in their letters spelling out the services they provide for the community and the costs associated with it and the number of people they serve.  The Coalition is also asking their members to sign a letter of support. “We need the majority of the aldermen to support this effort and to rescind this water tax.”

Asked about some elected officials belief that small churches don’t provide services, Ford said that’s an illusion and is not true. “They fill a critical gap in the city dealing with homeless, crime ridden folks in the neighborhood. They serve the basic needs of the people of Chicago.

“They are part of the larger network of religious institutions. We are the covering for the smaller churches. We are growing, expanding, and we are going to stand up for God. We need all of our religious institutions in Chicago, large, small, medium size that is not a determining factor,” said Ford.

The religious leaders will meet again for a strategy session Tuesday, October 9, 2012, at 10 a.m.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: Chintabernie@aol.com.

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