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Clergy blasts mayor’s latest plan to charge nonprofits for water

Francis Cardinal George speaking Interfaith CoalitiRestore Water Fee Exemptipress conference St. Paul Church God Christ 4526 S. Wabash St.

Francis Cardinal George speaking at the Interfaith Coalition to Restore the Water Fee Exemption press conference at the St. Paul Church of God in Christ, 4526 S. Wabash St. Tuesday, April 30, 2013 | Brian Jackson~Sun Times

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Updated: June 2, 2013 6:34AM

A coalition of clergy on Tuesday blasted the mayor’s latest plan to charge nonprofits for water, saying the proposal failed to meet their needs.

On Sunday, Mayor Rahm Emanuel changed his decision to take away free water from nonprofit organizations, putting forth a compromise plan that would restore the perk to groups with assets under $1 million.

But Elder Kevin Ford, of the Interfaith Coalition to Restore the Water Fee Exemption, said the cutoff should be higher. An amendment to the current water fee ordinance suggested by the coalition and supported by 29 aldermen asks that nonprofits with less than $250 million in assets be exempt from paying for water.

“Is the expectation we’ll sell those assets [church buildings and other property] in order to get $1 million in assets?” Ford asked at the news conference at his church’s community center at St. Paul Church of God in Christ.

Saying that the leaders of nonprofits had to “be practical and pragmatic” about what the city could afford, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd) called on her colleagues in the City Council to release the ordinance from the budget committee for a vote and almost certain passage.

Cardinal Francis George acknowledged that nonprofits “should help contribute” but suggested organizations’ operating budgets could be used to determine water costs instead of their assets.

“The lake is a gift from God,” George added. “We feel sometimes we should charge the city for using our water.”

Archdiocese of Chicago Chancellor Jimmy Lago argued the cost of the water for nonprofits could be covered by major institutions like Northwestern Hospital that would fall outside the cutoff.

Organizations with assets above Emanuel’s cutoff were vocal about their frustration.

Having to pay for the water Diana Faust’s organization uses would force her to cut 10 percent of its work with the homeless.

Faust, the executive director of the Franciscan Outreach Association, said her group has a $2 million budget, $525,000 of which comes from the city to help her run two homeless shelters and help thousands of needy find homes.

In 2011, Emanuel eliminated the free water perk for hospitals, churches, universities and other nonprofits.

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