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Alderman vows to fund revenue venue to aid clergy

By Chinta Strausberg

In an effort to help Chicago religious leaders to abide by a city ordinance to install water meters in their houses of worship, Elder Kevin Anthony Ford Thursday called on Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) to see if the city will allow part of the $1.7 billion Tax Increment Financing (TIF) to be used to defray their costs.

Ford made the announcement during the weekly meeting of the Interfaith Coalition to Restore the Water Fee Exemption for Religious Institutions held at Saint Sabina Church where clergy are working with the city and the faith and community-based organizations for a restoration of water fee exemptions.

“We are asking Ald. Fioretti to explore opportunities or avenues to access TIF dollars to assist non-profits in the city of Chicago to help them with the installation of water meters and their vault issues,” said Ford explaining the cost range from $200 to thousands of dollars…$10,000 for some with more complicated installations with the abatement of asbestos,” said

“There could be a number of complications which is why we are asking the city of Chicago to assist with the identification of TIF dollars to help non-profits in the city that are under burdened already because of the financial straits that any of them find themselves in,” said Ford.

When contacted, Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said he is looking for a “global solution” in seeking funds that would help religious leaders defray the cost of installing meters as required by city ordinance.

Fioretti doesn’t think this administration would go along with using the TIF funds to help pay the cost of installing the meters for the ministers “even though they have given private institutions like DePaul $55 million,” said Fioretti.

“I will look at other avenues that we could approach because this has been going on for to long. Our non-for-profits, which have a halo effect” in its services are seriously impacted by these water bills religious leaders say will force them to cut back on providing social services. “We need to find ways to deal with this situation and find a solution,” said Fioretti.

But, Fioretti isn’t the only one determined to help the religious leaders. “I met with Jorge Ramirez, the president of the Chicago Federation of Labor and Tom Villanova, head of the Chicago Building Trades who are reviewing this matter to determine if financial relief can be secured for non-profits that are suffering hardship due to the mandatory meter installation,” said Elder Ford. “I am deeply elated that they are reviewing this matter.”

Explaining, Ford said, “There is an estimated cost of $10,000 to install each meter. There are 140 meters to be installed; so this would be a substantial savings otherwise they would have to take these funds from the operating budgets causing severe deficits.”

While coalition negotiations continues, there have been some small but significant victories like that of Rev. C.J. Wright, Sr., pastor of the Christ Lutheran Church and School, whose water bill went down to $5,000 from $28,000.

“We are headed for success,” Ford told the coalition. “I am waiting to put the victory flag on top of this mountain and then we can move forward.” He is hoping that the interfaith coalition remains as a viable body on other social issues once they have successfully concluded the water exemption battle. “Don’t give up. Don’t give in.”

Jerry Rankins, the chaplain for the Coalition of Black Trade Unions and a business agent for the International Brotherhood Election Workers, Local 21, said, “When we heard about this, we found it to be essential to be a part of this because an attack on the face base is a direct affect on the people who attend” those houses of worship.

“It is unacceptable that the mayor or anyone else would conceive that it would be OK to try to earmark money taken away from the churches and other non-for-profit people who serve in our community for jobs. It’s inconceivable. We saw it as another component to divide us,” said Rankins. “We had to get involved to get at and make clear that there are more fundamental ways of meeting the needs of the people while at the same time holding these corporations accountable….”

Geneva Kennedy, with the Franciscan Outreach Association who is working with the Interfaith Coalition Water Conservation Committee, has been working with the city on the water application which she says have been approved and that they are waiting for them to be printed.

“We have a verbal agreement from the city that the net assets would exclude properties but that verbal agreement is supposed to come in the a written format in the application which is so important for us to see this document,” she stated.

One of the ministers fielding questions about the water issue was Pastor David Ballard, Sun Rise Full Gospel, 6159 So. Aberdeen, who has a hole in his church. He had a contractor come in to find the main water line. He is waiting for the city to release the meter. Ballard said the city says he owes about $4,000 as of 2013. “I want the city to let me know what I do to release my meter so my contractor can install it. What ever I need to pay, just let me know.”

The Coalition voted to approve Andrew Tucker, retired assistant commissioner for the Department of Water Management for 31-years, to find out the status of Pastor Ballard’s request as well as more than 5,000 religious leaders who have questions about the mandatory installation of meters or their exorbitant water bills.

Derrick Harris, a member of the Interfaith Coalition Water Conservation and the Technical Assistance Committees, voiced concern that there was not a clarification on how the churches and organizations that are experiencing financial hardships will be dealt with. He thought the comptroller is the one to mitigate these concerns.

“And, it was my understanding that any indebtedness that is owed before a meter can be installed, 25 percent had to be paid,” he said explaining his concerns were deferred to the Water Conservation Committee for further study.

Pastor Michael Eaddy, who heads the Peoples Church of the Harvest, made his position clear on the coalition and its efforts to secure a restoration of water fee exemptions for the churches. “I am in total support of all of the efforts of the Interfaith Coalition and highly esteem of the leadership of Elder Ford has provided this coalition and Jimmy M. Lago, former chancellor of the Archdiocese of Chicago.”

Before the meeting ended, Rev. Wright presented an appreciation award to Elder Lafayette McGary, pastor of the Reaching Out Ministries Church of God in Christ, 1950 So. St. Loomis, for being his church’s 122nd year anniversary guest speaker. “We have touched three different centuries…since 1891…,” said Wright.

In accepting the award, McGary said, “It caught me by surprised but this is what happens when you do the work of God.  I’m thankful,” he said. McGary spoke at Wright’s Church on September 15th on the topic entitled, “Obedience is better than sacrifice.”

The next coalition meeting will be held 10 a.m., Tuesday, October 1, 2013, at the New Home Baptist Church, 4804 West Polk Street, headed by Pastor Mack McCollum.

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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