After losing more than $20 million by giving water to churches and other non-profits for free, the cash-strapped city of Chicago decided this year to charge them for 40% of the water they use, which everyone else has to pay. And the churches are threatening to take their ball and go home:
Addressing two dozen religious leaders at an annual retreat this week, Emanuel said he would take into account a recent letter to the city’s 50 aldermen cautioning that the water fee program poses a dire threat to churches and the social programs they offer in their communities, the mayor’s aides said. That letter, signed by 46 leaders including Cardinal Francis George, argued that the water fee is a shortsighted effort to generate revenue that could backfire in the long run.
“Already, discussions are under way within some churches, synagogues, mosques and temples about reducing or eliminating donated space for the (Chicago Alternative Policing Strategy) program, (as well as) time that gyms and community centers are open at night for neighborhood children,” the letter stated. “The cost of replacing these sites and programs with city-funded ones would be very costly, and our argument is that this possibility can be avoided altogether!”…“We’re not asking for charity. We’re just looking for a reasonable accommodation,” said Elder Kevin Anthony Ford of St. Paul Church of God in Christ Community Development Ministries. “We in no way dare say we’re retaliating. We’re just unable to provide those services — and that would be disastrous to the city of Chicago.”
So they already don’t pay any taxes to the city, which costs the city probably in the hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue (I don’t have Chicago stats specifically, but a study in New York City found that the property tax exemption there cost the city $600 million a year), but they still want for free what every other individual and business in the city has to pay for. And if they don’t get that, they’re going to stop providing “services.”
Look, I don’t think anyone begrudges this kind of thing for the small church that runs a soup kitchen. But when the head of the Chicago diocese of the fabulously rich Catholic Church is complaining about not getting enough freebies? Yeah, give me a break. Everyone else not only has to pay for this, they have to pay more for it because the city is giving away $20 million to the churches every year and not getting any tax revenue from them at all. Maybe the Pope should sell a painting or one of his golden rings.