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Pastor Of Pilsen Church Says He's Getting Hosed With Water Bill Debt Due To Lack Of Water Meter; Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez Wants Federal Dollars To Remedy Such Situations

CHICAGO (CBS) -- The pastor of a Pilsen church says he feels like he's getting hosed - with an $11,000 water bill.

And he's not alone.

The CBS 2 Investigators have uncovered a pattern of bungled water bills. Most all stem from a lack of a water meter, and bad billing systems.

But remember - you can't get a meter without replacing the lead service line that feeds your building. So the question now is who's going to pay for that?

CBS 2's Tim McNicholas looked at a possible solution Thursday.

The Rev. Cesar Sifuentes offers a twice-weekly soup kitchen and an annual coat drive for the winter at St. Matthew Lutheran Church, 2108 W. 21st St.

"The church and soup kitchen, never stop," Sifuentes said.

But Pastor Sifuentes said those services are now in jeopardy because of the church's water bill debt. That debt amounts to $11,569.56 – which the church does not have.

The church is one of 180,000 buildings in Chicago without a water meter. The city bases the bills not on water usage, but property size and plumbing fixtures – guesstimates.

"The building is big – therefore, they think we're using a lot of water," Sifuentes said.

The pastor said that has led to inaccurate, sky-high fees that the church can't afford.

"Please help us with water meter. We need the meter as soon as possible," Sifuentes said. "We cannot continue serving the community."

It is an issue we've exposed time and time again in our Getting Hosed series with CBS 2 Investigator Brad Edwards.

People all over the city have been left baffled by burgeoning bills despite little to no water usage.

Ald. Byron Sigcho Lopez (25th) introduced an ordinance this week to use federal dollars to install more water meters. He wants the money to come from either American Rescue Act, or the federal infrastructure bill passed this week.

"We believe that investing this estimated $1 billion will do a lot to make sure that we have water meters in places like St. Matthew and other places, but also to make sure that we adsorb the debt of thousands of residents who may be in this situation," said Ald. Sigcho-Lopez.

One challenge is that to install a new water meter, the city must first make sure lead pipes are replaced. The city planned to replace 600 lead service lines this year, but back in October, we found they'd only replaced a mere six.

"Right now, we have federal funding that is coming to the City of Chicago, and I'm not sure what is the excuse not to make this a priority," said Ald. Sigcho-Lopez.

Since St. Matthew is a church, it should qualify for a water bill exemption. But by the city's rules, for an exemption, you need a water meter.

"To the city please, listen to us," said Pastor Sifuentes. "Help us, because we are still in the community."

Meanwhile, remember those six lead service lines the city replaced? Since October, they have replaced a few more - a grand total of 17 out of their 600 promised.

EMERGENCY COMPONENT - LOCAL

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