CITY HALL — Mayor Rahm Emanuel has proposed a compromise for nonprofit agencies suddenly forced to pay city water fees.
Following negotiations with aldermen and nonprofit agencies, the mayor proposed a four-tier pay structure for water rates for nonprofits.
Hospitals and nonprofit groups had for decades received free water. But Emanuel decided to make all agencies pay for city water, citing budget concerns and an annual cost of $20 million. Churches said they were particularly hard hit by the change in policy.
Under the compromise, nonprofits with overall assets under $1 million would get a free ride.
Those valued at between $1 million and $10 million would get a 60-percent exemption. Those between $10 million and $250 million would get a 25-percent exemption.
Those valued at more than $250 million would receive no additional exemption, although a public-museum exemption would remain at 20 percent regardless of asset level. And the previously established Disproportionate Share Hospitals' water exemption would remain in place, with a minimum exemption of 25 percent.
That, however, would still provide a hardship for certain well-endowed churches in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Nonprofits will have to have water meters installed to get the exemption, and the Emanuel administration said it would be working with needy agencies to cut costs in having them put in.
The Emanuel administration credited Aldermen Carrie Austin (34th) and Howard Brookins Jr. (21st) with helping to work out the compromise.
"I'm happy we do have this proposal out there," Brookins said. "It's still a work in progress. This is a great step in the right direction."
Brookins cheered the clear coverage for small churches, but said the exemption for the Archdiocese of Chicago "has to be leveled out."
Mayoral spokesman Tom Alexander said each church would be considered individually to determine what tier it fits into.
The archdiocese planned to make its case for an across-the-board church exemption at a news conference Tuesday morning as part of the Interfaith Coalition to Restore the Water Fee Exemption. Cardinal Francis George planned to attend that news conference at the St. Paul Church of God in Christ, 4526 S. Wabash St.
The group said in a statement that church-based social services "can only be sustained if reasonable accommodation is made and recognition is given to their fundamental role in sustaining, nurturing and protecting local neighborhoods and communities." It argued that a fee waiver is needed to enable the organizations to continue.