EAST ST. LOUIS, Ill. (AP) – The struggling city of East St. Louis is pressing on with a $100-a-year fee on churches and nonprofits despite an outcry from clergy leaders who consider it an unfair tax on their houses of worship.
A coalition of pastors on Thursday night panned the city’s compromise proposal that would have allowed churches and nonprofits to avoid the so-called annual registration fee if they agreed to hire their own certified inspector and provide such document to the city, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.
The city council last year added churches and nonprofits to an ordinance that required businesses to register with the city and pay the fee that would cover costs of inspecting the sites for fire safety. Most of the fee would go to inspections, with $25 covering “administrative costs.”
Pastors’ calls for their churches to be exempt have been to no avail.
“This is a money grab assessed to churches for services not rendered,” said the Rev. Jerome Rogers of Shining Light Missionary Baptist Church. “To veil this as a safety ordinance is just preposterous.”
“This is a problem in the separation of church and state,” added the Rev. Robert Jones III of John Devine Missionary Baptist Church.
“They’re trying to tax a church … for a service that does not even exist.”
Mayor Alvin Parks Jr. called the fee justified and bristles at the “tax” word.
“We didn’t want to tax the churches; we’re still not,” he said. “It’s a fee to recoup our costs for providing safety and services to the churches.”
Churches that resisted the fee received a letter from the city’s Department of Regulatory Affairs warning that failure to register would result in being turned over to a collection agency “and may reflect negatively on your credit record, lien on property and other remedies that the state of Illinois allows.”