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Charities Bracing For Chicago Water Bills

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A parochial school student sips from a water fountain. (CBS)

A parochial school student sips from a water fountain. (CBS)

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CHICAGO (CBS) — Mayor Emanuel’s new water and sewer bills are back in the news. They have yet to be issued, but churches and charities are trying to figure out how big they’ll be.

CBS 2′s Derrick Blakley reports Catholic parishes and schools don’t know where the money will come from.

The Archdiocese says the 200 parishes and schools within in the city face a total water bill of around $2 million. It’s an unwelcome burden, especially for struggling inner-city parishes and schools that are already having a tough time making ends meet.

In South Shore, St. Philip Neri Catholic School has been educating kids since 1913, and the school has never paid a water bill. Now, it will, with the full effect phased in over four years.

“Even when you phase something in, you have to find it within your own budget how to meet that, and when you’re in an inner city, it’s not easy,” St. Philip Neri Pastor Tom Belanger says.

For the bigger Catholic institutions, the numbers are staggering. Misericordia, home to 600 developmentally disabled kids and adults, faces a $500,000 annual water bill. For Holy Name Cathedral, it will be $100,000 a year.

For neighborhood parishes and schools, it’s expected to be around $10,000 a year. For some, that constitutes 20 percent of their annual budget.

“That means some other cuts will have to be made somewhere, and that usually will be the services we’re providing,” Bishop Joseph Perry said.

The cuts will impact not only schools, but also food pantries and soup kitchens that help the very neediest.

“We are doing so much that sometimes the city cannot provide through their own social service agencies,” Belanger says. “That’s where we have to step up and say, ‘Hey, give us some sort of break.’”

Even though the city council approved the new water bills for non-profits, Archdiocese Chancellor Jimmy Lago says he hopes aldermen can be convinced to take another look at the issue.

Believers say Jesus turned water into wine. With these new water bills, some may be praying for him to turn it back.

“Miracles are always possible,” Perry said.

A mayoral spokesman says free water for non-profits cost the city almost $17 million annually — money it can no longer afford to lose.

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