DOWNERS GROVE – Downers Grove churches are continuing their push against the village's stormwater fee implemented a year ago that they say burdens their budgets used to offer social services for the poor.
A 505-word Letter to the Editor signed by nine church leaders this week again made their case against the village levying the fee against tax-exempt organizations, citing a variety of arguments ranging from Constitutional separation of church and state, to the affect the fee has on budgets.
The letter follows months of efforts by church leaders speaking at council meetings to ask for exemptions.
"We ask that the mayor and council repeal this tax on churches and find another way to fund their water retention plan," the letter states.
Village officials say the new fee is a more equitable way to fund stormwater improvements because it's calculated by the amount of stormwater runoff that a property creates. Before the fee, single-family home owners were paying for about 75 percent of village stormwater infrastructure improvements, despite only owning about 50 percent of the impervious ground in Downers Grove, officials said.
But for nonprofits like churches who don't pay property taxes, it is an entirely new expense.
So far, the majority of the village council has remained unswayed.
"I fully appreciate and understand where they're coming from, because this is an expenditure they haven't previously had to make," Downers Grove Martin Tully said. "But the majority of the council continues to think that it's not a wise or justified solution to exempt an entire category of property owners from contributing their fair share."
Tully said he would rather work toward solutions like expanding the cost-share program.
Next month, commissioners are expected to discuss the option of expanding the cost-share program by $200,000 to help mitigate the impact of the fee on nonprofits.
The village would use the funds to help churches make capital improvements to their properties to reduce stormwater run-off. Those improvements can then be used to receive credits from the village to reduce their stormwater fee. Tully said the program is also beneficial because it improves the entire stormwater system by reducing runoff.
Tully said that currently, the fee is costing the average church about $164/month, though some larger churches, such as St. Mary of Gostyn Parish, pay more than twice that.
Churches also take issue with the fact that the fee is scheduled to increase yearly until there is no longer a gap in stormwater funding. The fee increases 6.4 percent in 2014.
"Our mayor and council have imposed a thinly veiled tax (“fee”) on churches and other nonprofits to help fund a long delayed water retention program," the letter reads. "This program was tabled for years by previous town leaders. It is built and designed to add more tax income each year and thus avoid the state mandated property tax limits. Many other citizens have already spoken out against this."
The letter goes on to say that as the village has cut back its social programming such as Meals on Wheels and senior transportation services, that burden fell on churches and other nonprofits.
"We have stretched every dollar to help the poor, the homeless and the needy," the letter states. "The village refuses to see what all the communities of faith have done for the whole village.
"... How does it reflect on our community's values in Downers Grove when we place our money shortfall on the backs of the poor and needy?"
Tully said when those programs were cut by a previous village administration, the slack was picked up by many public and private organizations.
"When the village, due to tough times, had to cut back social programs, I don't think dollar-for-dollar you could say [the burden went directly to churches]," he said.