The City Council meeting in East St. Louis, Ill, opened as per usual, with a prayer. Soon after item 8E came up for discussion. According to a story filed by Religion News Services, this was the reason the room was at maximum capacity.
Item 8E reflects an amendment that would require safety inspections for businesses. Pretty standard in many municipalities throughout the nation. However, part of Item 8E has caused a kerfluffle between the city and East St. Louis Pastors.
The part in contention is a new $100 annual registration fee which the city has imposed on all non-profit corporations in the city, including churches. $25.00 of the total is alloted for administration costs. The Pastors were notified of the new fee via letters, which also included the warning that those who don't pay the fee will be turned over to collection agencies. Part of that warning included that non-compliance,
“…may reflect negatively on your credit record, lien on property and other remedies that the State of Illinois allows.”
The story states that those who build new churches are required to pay for various licenses and accompanying permits, but the actual non-profits are not required to pay taxes. This includes churches.
The argument for non-taxation of churches stems from the reasoning that these organizations provide services to the community. This results in the municipalities not having to provide them, thereby saving tax money that would otherwise need to be allotted.
The story cites Rev. Jerome Rogers of Shining Light Missionary Baptist Church, who stated that the local churches in East St. Louis,
“…do a lot of good in the community, from teaching computer classes and resume writing classes to cleaning up dilapidated properties.”
Mission, Kansas had made a similar attempt in 2012. They tried to levy what they called a 'transportation utility fee,' otherwise referred to as a 'driveway tax' on churches. The reason cited was to fund road work. Local churches filed suit stating that the fee was a disguised tax.
East St. Louis Mayor Parks admitted that churches and nonprofits had never been charged a fee for any inspections, including fire safety inspections. He defended the fee, though, stating,
“We didn’t want to tax the churches; we’re still not. It’s a fee to recoup our costs for providing safety and services to the churches.”
At the City Council meeting, one of the Pastors voiced his disagreement by stating,
"Why you want to tax God’s house? Churches are struggling. This is a low blow.”
Another Pastor stated,
“I see the condition of the city and it hurts my heart. But to come after the church, that’s not right.”
The end result was the Mayor offering a solution that involved a revision of the Item to allow churches and non-profit organizations to inspect their own buildings. While this would prevent the churches from having to pay the municipal fee, it would require them to hire their own certified inspectors, and to provide all the required documentation.
Parks justified this by stating,
“If you don’t want to pay, don’t pay. But one thing we can’t get away from is that churches and all buildings need to be inspected annually.”
The rejection by Pastors may very well end up costing the churches substantially more, as Jason Blackmon, the Fire Chief, stated the costs can be as much as $1000.00 each, ten times the amount of what the city fee is.
For more information, relevant links and commentary, please read the whole story at Religion News Services.