Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of January 24, 2005
Heating bills burn up budgets
Churches consider renovation, special appeals to meet skyrocketing costs
By RAMON GONZALEZ
WCR Staff Writer
Some parishes in the Edmonton Archdiocese are beginning to feel the impact of Alberta's high energy prices and the bitter winter cold. At least one has been left scrambling for change.
St. Joseph's Basilica is projecting a $50,000 operating deficit this year due, in large part, to the high cost of heating its cavernous 40-year-old building.
Louis Perepelecta, chair of finance and administration at the basilica, said the cost of heating the cathedral church has nearly tripled in the last two years, from $15,000 in 2002, to $44,000 by the end of 2004.
Recently, the parish asked parishioners to share the burden by increasing their giving by 20 per cent.
"We are appealing to every parishioner for help to shoulder this deficit burden collectively and to work as a parish to fund the rising costs associated with operating this huge facility," says a letter signed by pastor Leonard Gartner, Perepelecta and parish council chair Betty Unger.
"And we beg, in fairness and justice, that every parishioner will help, in a generous way, to support our church and to allow the associated ministries to continue to function and grow."
Utilities last year were about 15 per cent of the basilica's overall operating budget of $750,000.
Other parishes are not doing much better. St. Thomas More Parish in Edmonton saw its utility bill jump 75 per cent in three years, from $25,500 in 2001 to $44,000 in 2004, noted business administrator Lita Day.
And St. Theresa Parish has seen its energy costs increase by about 40 per cent in the past two years, said business administrator Line Saffran.
"We are spending thousands of dollars every month on gas and then also just on direct energy," said Father Paul Kavanagh, the pastor of Stettler and area.
The utility bill for the church buildings in Stettler, Castor, Consort and Delburne is $24,000 a year, out of a budget of $302,000 for the entire area.
Perepelecta said everyone has been suffering ever since the cost of gas was deregulated a few years ago.
"I think the problem with gas too is the added-on fees that the gas companies have been applying to the bill," he noted. "They are now almost as high as the price of gas or even more. Those are the types of things that the government should look at. Is there justification for that?"
But the solution is not to sit around and wait for gas prices to go down.
"I think what we have to do is look at ways of becoming more efficient," Perepelecta said. "Here at St. Joseph's Basilica we are already doing ongoing maintenance because the building is 40 years old and the heating system is 40 years old.
"We obviously keep the heat turned down when the church is empty and we are also looking at upgrading the system where we can. It is impossible obviously to replace it; it would cost about half a million dollars."
According to Perepelecta, cleaning the heating system periodically and replacing parts before they are worn out will increase efficiency from 10 to 15 per cent.
"Gas for the church wasn't as high as it could have been if we were in an older building, but it was still over our budget from last year," noted Day, the St. Thomas More business administrator. "We were about $4,000 to $5,000 over what we budgeted for gas costs."
But Day said there isn't a lot St. Thomas More can do to cut costs because the church is only seven years old and "a fairly energy efficient building."
Older buildings suffering
She would like to see an end to the incessant increase of gas prices. "I feel for people who are in older buildings like the basilica and Sacred Heart Church (of the First Peoples)," she said. "At Sacred Heart, they have tremendous costs they have to undergo right now to revamp all of their stained glass windows to try to retain heat in the building."
Sacred Heart pastor Jim Holland could not be reached for comment.
Kavanagh, the pastor of Stettler, said he might start looking into ways of cutting energy costs in order to have more money available for parish programs.
"We probably lose a lot of heat through the windows," he said of the 52-year-old Stettler church. "It takes a lot of our resources just to pay for our utilities."
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