Detroit’s crafty new tax on churches

From the Detroit News:

A balanced budget in Detroit might be something only prayed for, but few could imagine Motor City managers raiding church offering plates for revenue.

Yet new drainage fees from the city’s Water and Sewerage Department may do just that.  [drainage fees … sigh]

Come October, the department will begin charging property owners differently. Some of those property owners currently pay an antiquated fixed rate, and others haven’t paid a storm water fee at all. But all property owners in Detroit will now pay based on acreage, which means fees will likely go up.

Eric Rothstein, a department program director, told The Detroit News last week that this type of charge is “commonly now used” to finance storm water management programs. Billing by acreage is a “trend (in) water resources financing,” he said.

More than 400 properties will see “a significant increase in billing of more than 200 percent per month,” says department director Gary Brown.

And several of those properties, Brown said, are owned by the Archdiocese of Detroit.

“It’s impacting us, and it’s not good news,” says Joe Kohn, the archdiocese’s director of public relations. The archdiocese owns 80 properties in Detroit, and 18 parishes have received letters from the water department with likely more to come. Five churches will have to come up with more than $1,000 extra per month. Two parishes will be billed an additional $2,000.

St. Charles Lwanga parish in Grand Meyer, for example, has an additional $2,385 to come up with every month. Its pastor, the Rev. Theodore Parker, says the new charge is an “injustice.” Because of the higher monthly water bill, the good priest worries, the parish’s soup kitchen may be forced to close its doors.  [Intended or unintended consequences?  When liberals run things, they want to force you into their paradigm or take over what you are doing.]


“I don’t know any city in America that does not charge for water,” Brown says.

But for decades, Chicago has offered a water waiver for churches and other nonprofits. [Even in such a crazy place.]

It was an estimated $20 million annual bill that in 2011 Mayor Rahm Emanuel said the city could no longer afford. But the late Cardinal Francis George, [RIP] previously the archbishop of Chicago, implied the mayor’s move may have had more to do with shutting down church services than tightening the city’s belt.  [Yep.]

If you don’t want a city that only has government institutions,” [There it is.] he said during negotiations over the exemption in April 2013, “then you have to see to the solvency of religious institutions and other nonprofits.”

Chicago councilmen were forced to work out a fair compromise with clergy. Churches with net adjusted assets of less than $1 million would be granted a 100 percent exemption. The waiver would decrease for parishes with bigger wallets.


Read the rest there.

This is an interesting new angle of attack on churches.

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  1. Hoover says:

    I fully blame an impotent Church and generations of impotent Catholic prelates for the issues in the world that we face today. In Europe, iconic churches that were built at the height of Catholic Christianity become UNESCO world heritage sites filled with infidel tourists. Here in America, the once beautiful city churches that stood as large symbols of Catholic European immigrant communities get closed and sold off to millionaires in billionaires that turn them into restaurants and hotels.
    Why?! At some point in the 1900s, amid 2 world wars and a cold war that saw massive persecution of the Church with thousands upon thousands of priests murdered in concentration camps and gulags under the boot of Marxist ideologies, and amid multiple visits of the Blessed Virgin Mary where she warned about the wrath of God, rather than Catholics entrenching and becoming stronger in faith, they became more secular. Many left the Church altogether, and the vast majority of those who stayed only went through the motions. After generations of this, the focus has landed squarely on the temporal – “we must do something about social justice”, “we must do something about climate change”, yet the spiritual is entirely neglected. Even in a supposed “Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy”, confessions are hard to find -where before the world wars priests used to hear confessions at all hours of the day, often staying late in the night, now the vast majority of priests hear confessions for 30 minutes a week -not even enough time to hear the confessions of all the Extraordinary Ministers of Communion in a parish that head up what looks more like a Soviet-style bread line than a Church Militant in a state of grace unworthily receiving their Lord in the greatest act of love imaginable.
    As St. Augustine used to say, “The truth is like a lion; you don’t have to defend it. Let it loose; it will defend itself.” Unfortunately the truth has been in captivity and poorly treated so long, it’s health has declined. It is a lion with no teeth in a secular world that has learned to pride itself on relativism. A few will stop by and pet the lion, light a candle, then walk out the door to play with their marvels of technology which they barely comprehend, but serve as effective tools of enslaving their minds.
    Detroit, Pittsburgh, et. all. – Canaries in the coal mine of Vatican II.

  2. Rev. Basil Lawrence, OSB says:

    While working on a building project at the parish I am assigned as administrator to, I ran into a similiar situation while seeking final approval for a building permit to begin construction. The final sticking point in the release of the permit was the “rain garden” (aka…drainage). Essentially, the City here wanted us to pay for drastic costs in upgrading old drainage to the streets. My construction team and I met with the City officials and – thankfully – a compromise solution was agreed upon where we could retain rain water and run-off from impermeable surfaces (i.e. concrete, asphalt, etc) on-site. It’s a cost nonetheless to build the on-site solution, which will likely consist of an expanded garden & vegetation that will absorb water and an underground containment. However, it is by far a less expensive solution than paying to upgrade drainage lines to the street. Throughout this project, my experience has been that the City is asking the church to pay for upgrades that a good city ought to have planned and accounted for in the long run.

    I hinted to my local City officials that if they were going to impose cost prohibitive upgrades and expenses on a project that is entirely funded by donations for a non-profit, then I would make sure that I let my parish of 500+ families know why we would be unable to complete the project and where they could direct their complaints and letters to. Maybe if local and state officials get enough angry letters and complaints from parishioners whose parishes are impacted by such measures (esp. in an election year), maybe it will have an effect.

  3. JesusFreak84 says:

    I like Rev. Lawrence’s idea ;) Most cities don’t want angry voters, let alone angry vocal voters who will spread the word around.

  4. PostCatholic says:

    I looked into asking my own denominational connection in Detroit about this, but at the moment they’re without a settled pastor and this doesn’t seem to be occupying them.

    Detroit is a seriously destitute city with an infrastructure built for a city that was once four or five times its current size. I would imagine every part of its existing fiscal structure needs review and modification. I doubt that it singles out churches for particular persecution.

  5. chantgirl says:

    If I were a pastor of one of these churches, I would argue that since the EPA wants to claim ownership of water in the US then the EPA can pay for the drainage of such water.

    Seriously, it can’t possibly cost $2000/month for water drainage from one church’s property. Do they look at the recorded rainfall for the month or just charge a flat rate based on acreage? For what it’s worth, homeowners have been experiencing a similar situation. Utility rates go up with no way for the homeowner to fight the rate increases. Our sewer fee recently went up to nearly $50/month for a small house on a 1/4 acre. I wonder if Detroit is charging residential customers the same price per acre as the churches?

  6. Our city did this a few years ago by dropping the city garbage tax and instituting a refuse user fee. My parish was exempt from the tax but we are not exempt from the fee.

  7. tskrobola says:

    As CFO in a moderately-sized Michigan City I can attest to the fact that infrastructure is desperately in need of attention.

    It is not unreasonable to assess fees to move water off site and to make sure that is not put into the public sewage treatment stream, where the cost to the entire public, including churches, goes up by a factor of 10 for unnecessary sewage treatment.

  8. exNOAAman says:

    I don’t think the article is accurate. Not a drainage fee, but a rain tax. It can apply to any property based on area, even if not drained by city pipes. Maryland has tried this. Churches were exempt after complaints.
    I’ve done hydrology for 30 years. Don’t fall for it.

  9. The Masked Chicken says:

    Oh, pooh. Redirect the water away from the sewer runoff into the ground and let percolation and sunlight do the rest. I am sure that farmers could pitch in with some advice.

    The Chicken

  10. Pingback: CATHOLIC WEDNESDAY EDITION | Big Pulpit

  11. djneylon says:

    Unfortunately, this tax is not just on churches. It is part of a dubious effort, promoted by environmentalists and the EPA, to charge everyone — homeowners, big box retailers, factories, ice cream stands, what have you, for the cost of dealing with rain. Apparently, it is hugely expensive to deal with rainfall, and the means by which it was dealt with in the past (letting it run into storm drains and then the nearest body of water), paying for it out of taxes collected for street maintenance or water treatment (as appropriate). But, bureaucrats never being happy with the status quo, decided this was inadequate. Detailed plans for dealing with rain had to be drawn up and approved, and new infrastructure (treatment facilities, holding ponds, etc.) built to deal with it. All this, of course, must be paid for, and since most local governments are smart enough to realize that asking for a tax increase to deal with rain (not a new phenomenon) would have little chance of passage, they came of with the idea of levying a fee (calculated by a complicated system that only they could understand) and attaching it to water bills, burying it in with the sewage fee and whatever other fees they add on already. Implementing this always causes hue and cry because of the sudden large bump in the bill, which is never adequately promoted in advance, and because there is no way of actually reducing it (without knocking down buildings and tearing up parking lots [whose size and design is often mandated as well]). The system by which our government raises money to do things and the ever increasing list of things that government tries (usually badly) to do increases the burden on all. This fee is being leveled on a city with grating poverty, vast acreage of abandoned properties that pay no taxes or fees at all, and which is just barely out of fiscal bankruptcy. Top down governing (this is an EPA/Washington initiative) is strangling working people, charities and small businesses who have no voice.

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