CITY HALL — A maverick alderman is seeking to include churches and all charitable nonprofits in the city's free-water program.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel has said the city can no longer afford to provide free water to churches and nonprofits, estimating the cost at $20 million a year. He recently floated a proposal on a four-tier rate plan that would set a nonprofit's ability to pay according to its overall assets.
That plan has the backing of Aldermen Howard Brookins Jr. (21st) and Carrie Austin (34th), chairman of the Budget Committee, which is expected to take up the matter Tuesday ahead of Wednesday's City Council meeting.
Yet Ald. Bob Fioretti (2nd) said the fine details on that proposal are still being worked out.
"What it is, nobody knows," he added.
So he's putting forth an ordinance amendment previously endorsed by 29 aldermen that would grant free water not just to properties belonging to the city, state, Chicago Public Schools and hospitals, but to any nonprofit organization that "provides charitable, moral, health, education, safety, or similar social services to the community."
According to Fioretti, the advantage of that is it avoids any church-state issues while setting clear criteria for eligibility that churches are likely to meet.
The new ordinance has been signed by eight members of the Progressive Reform Caucus. While Fioretti originally put out a statement saying he would be calling for a vote on it Wednesday, he clarified that he'd take a wait-and-see approach to what the Emanuel administration submits to the Budget Committee Tuesday.
"Whatever comes out of Budget tomorrow, if it's not satisfactory we will either put our ordinance in Wednesday or, the alternative, see if there's more room for negotiations," Fioretti said.