January , 2019

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Without forms, they’ll lose battle 

By Chinta Strausberg

Representing the Interfaith Coalition to Restore the Water Fee Exemption for Religious Institutions, Elder Kevin Anthony Ford Tuesday urged all religious leaders to fill out a form that will prove leaving land in the city’s net assets definition will harm non-profits.

Interviewed at the People’s Church of the Harvest Church of God in Christ, 3570 West Fifth Avenue, Ford said, “To date, we have collected 15 of the 200 Certification Application for Water and Sewer Charge Exemption forms necessary to file with the city….

“Many of our organizations are land rich and lack funding or financing to provide services to the community,” said Ford. “Some of our properties may have a value in excess of $1  million but with the economy as it is now and collections down and other parts of the economy have impacted the parishioners ability to give.

“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 asked the city to initially raise the threshold, but they were reticent and resisted that.”

Referring to a recent City Council meeting, Elder Ford said he was asked by Finance Chairman Edward M. Burke and Ald. Brendan Reilly (42nd), what would it take to get it passed. “I told them to remove land from the equation and this would create the ability for churches to make application and secure the 100 percent water fee exemption.”

Elder said currently in Chicago churches and other faith-based organizations over $1 million would be subject to a 60 percent discount. If over $10 million Ford said they would receive a 40 percent discount and 20 percent respectfully.

“It’s out contention that the city must remove the net assets and redefine land the net assets so that land is taken out of that,” Ford said.

“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,” he said. The current ordinance recently passed makes it retroactive to January 1, 2013.

“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. Many of these bills are still lingering over the heads of these organizations. We are asking the city to remove that from the billing.”

Interviewed by Rev. C.J. Wright, pastor of Christ Lutheran Church/School, located at 1511 North Long Avenue in Chicago, said, “My bill at one time was at $50,000” he said is now around $35,000. “The church and the school are worth about $2.6 million” which takes him over the $1 million mark. Wright said he couldn’t afford to pay 60 percent for his water bill.

Wright said, “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”?

Elder added, “Because of the public good that we do, there should be a reasonable accommodation to support our efforts that imparts on the quality of life on the citizens of Chicago.”

“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,” Elder Ford said referring to the many social services programs run by religious institutions including anti-violence programs.

Wright added, “Many of the churches which includes my church open up the doors to the city to have CAPS meetings, and when it comes to voting, my church is a polling place. We don’t get any money for holding the CAPS meetings. This is for the public good.

“In the wintertime, we are burning gas,” Wright said, “Every time the doors open, that is money. We never once thought about asking the city for any kind of compensation for what we thought was a service for the city of Chicago, and the money we get for voting doesn’t cut anything,” Wright said referring to the high heating costs.

Ford said 501 ©(3) organizations that to receive the water fee exemption at one of the four tiers will have to submit their financials, Certificate of good standing, attest to the public good that they do, be a part of a verifiable water conservation component of their organization. “They have to submit this to receive the water fee exemption. Failure to do so will preclude them from the exemption,” said Ford.

“We are asking all 501 © (3’s) faith-based and community based organizations in the city of Chicago to submit their information to the Interfaith Coalition. Their information will be transferred to a document that only indicates a control number,” he said.

“The city will not for the purpose of this survey see the name of the organization…only the control number which will be revealed only to the Interfaith Coalition and the providing faith base organizations.

“We have reached a 95 percent success rate. The exemption is back in, but if we fail to meet the 200 threshold, we will not be able to move forward with our request that the city of Chicago remove land from the net assets and make this retroactive,” warned Ford.

Pastor Eaddy called the meeting critical having come a long way with the victory in sight. “The major play now is for us to provide documentation. It’s one thing for us to say that we should be exempt, but it’s now important for us to document and prove that we are to be exempted.

“The application for exemption that has been developed will reflect that because it will show that yes we have buildings, land because that is what we have been providing services, but it has not given us the kind of revenue base that it takes to extend services that we provide but to pay these water fees that are associated with us providing these services,” Eaddy said.

“We must provide documentation. We have to make our case and the documents will make the case. Once we compile some 200 applications, 80 to 90 percent of them will reflect that we are to be exempted. I am optimistic that will happen,” Pastor Eaddy said.

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