Church Cries Foul Over City Rent Deal

To some, it may seem like David versus Goliath. The city of Biloxi wants the Living Waters Ministry, Incorporated to start paying rent on a piece of property the church used to own. The small church is located on Caillavet Street in the path of a road widening and urban renewal project. The city and Living Waters Ministry went to court over how much money the church was entitled to for the property the city needed for street widening. A jury awarded the church $755,000 plus $45,000 in interest for part of the sanctuary and a parking lot. The church is still using the building, but now the city wants $1,400 a month in rent. Church member and secretary, Delecia Smith, told WLOX News, "I just feel like we should not pay $1,400 a month because we own the sanctuary. That's where we hold our worship services and what we're paying for is the parking and a partial part of the sanctuary." A measure is on Monday's city council agenda to approve the rental agreement with Living Waters Ministry. City spokesman Vincent Creel told WLOX News the church is being treated fairly. Creel said other property owners who have been bought out by the city have paid rent if they continued to occupy the property, "We've had to be real careful to go by the established guidelines." Though church members say they should be an exception, Creel say the city cannot give the church special treatment, Creel said, "To allow someone to use public property without compensating the taxpayers would be an illegal donation." Living Waters Ministry moved to the Caillavet location in the early 1990's. Delecia Smith says since that time the congregation has grown. She and other church members fear what may happen next. "We've had some set backs, but we're going to keep going on with the church because the church must roll on."