Leaders from three Downers Grove churches are asking local officials to reconsider whether churches and non-profits should have to pay the village's newly-implemented storm water utility fee.
Revs. Kirk Moore, Dan Martinson and Scott Oberle attended the Downers Grove Council's Jan. 15 meeting to discuss the fee's impact on their congregations, and ask for a sit-down with the mayor and commissioners.
"While we understand that the churches all use village resources and water and (produce) storm water, it does limit our ability in our budget to minister to those in the community, and each of our church communities are affected by this," said Oberle, of First Congregational United Church of Christ.
Downers Grove commissioners approved the village's shift to the storm water utility system in August, replacing the former property tax-based system with a monthly charge for all property owners, including tax-exempt churches and non-profits.
Church leaders questioned whether the village is using the fee as a way to levy a tax, without actually calling it a tax.
"The fee feels to me like a tax," said Martinson, of Hobson Road Community Church. "When I see the fee, I see a fee that a municipality is charging for a service, and that's not the way we're accustomed as not-for-profits to doing business."
At Martinson's church, the charges will approach $3,000, which he said represents more than half of what the congregation dedicated to its benevolence fund last year.
"That's not worship services or Christian mission work, but benevolence needs within our community—helping someone out with their rent, helping someone put gas in their car, helping folks with meals and things like that," Martinson said. "What I'm looking at is a situation where our ability to do that is cut in half."
Moore said his church, St. Paul's United Church of Christ, will have to pay about $2,000 for the storm water utility.
"We're a very community-active congregation, and we don't want to not do those things," Moore said. "This isn't a threat to not do those things, it's just saying we can do less when the community involvement we have isn't taking into account with the storm water fee."
Mayor Martin Tully said the present and former councils were "uniquely aware" of the impact the storm water utility fee would have on non-profits, including churches. However, part of the reason the village pursue the utility was so that residents would not carry a disproportionate share of storm water management costs.
"The reality is that rain water doesn't make any distinctions between faith-based property and non-faith-based property," Tully said.
Tully said he and the council empathize with the churches, and added that it's too early to tell if the utility will need any adjustments in the future.
"It's not a perfect approach by any means, but it was ultimately decided to be the superior choice," Tully said of the fee. "Whether there may be any adjustments, tweaks or modifications is premature to say, because we're just putting this into place. But that doesn't mean there aren't possibilities where that might occur."
Church leaders say they will continue to pay the fee, but hope to work with the village on a solution that would have a lesser impact on their budgets.
"We really want to partner with the council," Oberle said. "We feel the faith community offers a lot, especially for the marginalized and those falling through the cracks. We hope that we can dialogue and continue this work together."
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