Churches, Non-Profits Want Their Free Water Back

Coalition of church leaders, social service agencies protest mayor's decision to pay for water

An interfaith coalition of church leaders and non-profit social service agencies are seeking to get their free water back.

Mayor Rahm Emanuel phased out free water for the organizations in his first budget, which mandated that non-profits pay 40 percent of their bills last year, 60 percent this year and 80 percent next year.

"This onerous water fee is causing catastrophic effects in operating budgets," said Elder Kevin Ford of the St. Paul Church of God in Christ Community Development Ministries.

Some social service agencies and overnight shelters claim to have had their water shut off entirely because they can't afford to pay their bills.

Cardinal Frances George has also joined the coalition, and argues that non-profits save the city so much money with what they provide -- from reducing crime to social service programs -- that it outweighs the increased revenue it now receives.

"It might be also good to remember that we all know the lake is a gift from God," George said.

Ald. Bob Fioretti was blunt in his assessment of the issue.

"He (Mayor Rahm) can throw out all the red herrings he wants about there's no money, but it sure doesn't seem like we're broke when they want to service the downtown area," Fiorretti said.

Ald. Pat Dowell supports "reasonable accommodation" for some non-profits, but points out that there are other organizations that can afford to pay.

"We have to recognize city is in debt," Dowell said.

In a statement last week, the mayor said he understands the viewpoints expressed by George and non-profit groups, but pointed out that other Chicagoans are "also feeling the burden of paying their fare share for water." Emanuel said he would continue to work with the groups to "consider additional options while striving to ensure fairness throughout the city.

New York allows for non-profits to be exempt from water and sewer charges, however free water ended in Washington, D.C. in 1996.

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