FREE WATER.

FREE WATER.

WHEREVER a municipal waterworks system exists, there exists with it a system of supplying free water to the municipal buildings and institutions, to the fire, police, and street cleaning departments, to the public fountains, fire hydrants, public schools, and the like. At first sight that is right enough; but a little reflection will show the contrary to be the ease. For though it may savorof the robbing Peter to-pay-Paul principle that the water department should debit the city with the water so supplied, yet, to insure an accurate statement of municipal receipts and expenditures, it is of obligation that such a course should be followed. Allowing that system to pass uncriticized, however, there is another aspect of the free water dole that calls for a few words of remark—and that is, the water supplied gatuitously, or at best at a great reduction, to churches, hospitals, Y. M. C. A. and Y. W. C. A. institutes, armories, and the like. In a few of these cases some such privilege may be granted; in others, to grant it is to add unjustly to the burdens of the taxpayers those which the parties relieved are nearly always as well able to bear as many of the nonrelieved citizens—in some instances they are much better able to shoulder them. To take the case of hospitals: It is true that the majority of these institutions every year treat gratuitously or at the minimum of cost a large number of free patients in return for the favor thus granted them. But it must not be forgotten that the majority of hospitals also make quite a large yearly income out of patients who pay very handsomely for the treatment they receive. It is likewise true that these hospitals pay out very little indeed in the way of salaries, as, with the exception of the actual executive officers, the help, and in some cases the senior house physician, and a comparatively trifling wage to the nurses (who take their board and training in lieu of money), the medical officers give their services free. Under such conditions, therefore, at least two-thirds of the hospitals in the country are actually productive of a surplus revenue to those who conduct them. Why then should they be exempt from paying at least for a part of the water they consume? The same rule should also apply to many of the armories, at least in our larger cities and towns, which, far from being In such a mendicant condition as to be obliged to depend upon the public for their water supply, are in reality comfortable clubs for the use of a certain number of men who can afford the time to serve in the National Guard, and, as members of the regiment, to fit up their company rooms elaborately—even luxuriously—and to use the armories themselves as places in which to hold fashionable receptions or to give costly entertainments in the way of balls, dramatic performances, or concerts. It is clear, then, that, since those for whom the armories were built can afford to incur such expenses, they are in no such poor plight as to call for a remission of the water rates. The Y.M. C. A. and the Y. W. C. A. buildings, as a rule, come under the same category. Their owners or tenants charge for membership; they exact certain fees for attendance on courses of lectures, for instruction, for the use of their gymnasiums; sometimes, also, they run restaurants, rent sleepingrooms, or act as commission agencies for the sale of work; but, except that they keep up reading rooms which are to a certain extent open to the public (most of the papers and periodicals, by the way, being sent them free), and that on Sundays they hold services (at which, incidentally, they take up collections,and which are more or less superfluous, in the face of the fact that there are churches enough in all conscience to supply the spiritual needs of the neighborhood), in what consists the exact amount of benefit they confer upon society to entitle them to relief from any civic burden is yet to be discovered. As for the churches: Taken all round, they are more than able to discharge every civic obligation,and if the Scriptures are to be taken as a guide and their Founder as an example, they are certainly expected to pay their taxes the same as others. All the same, many demand their exemption as a right, not as a favor—on what plea we do not know, especially since the most of them, like theatres or concert halls, are run on strictly business principles—and in the reports of the various water boards (as in that of Harrisbtrg,Pa., for instance, which appears elsewhere in this impression, where fifty-six churches are relieved from an aggregate payment of about $800 a year for water) we see the richest, equally with the poorest churches (some of which fairly earn their exemption), presenting the humiliating spectacle of being pauperized at the expense of the taxpayers, and being fed, just as the jails, almshouses, and city lunatic asylums are fed, at the public crib. It seems time that the clergy shonld protest against being identified with organizations,which under the guise of religion are the recipients of the people’s charity, and shonld take themselves out of a class that is unfairly privileged at the expense of the masses. Looked at from whatever standpoint, the whole system of free water, except for purely municipal and philanthropic purposes, out of which is sucked no advantage, small or great, is altogether wrong.

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