What do the Park Ridge Park District and the Park Ridge Library have in common?
Freeloaders. That’s the shorthand term this blog has adopted to describe Park Ridge residents who look to take unfair economic advantage of their fellow taxpayers.
Most folks don’t remember that back about 10 years ago the Park Ridge Park District’s “Community Center” (n/k/a the “Fitness Center”) had a “freeloader” problem: private personal trainers were running their for-profit training businesses out of that facility on the taxpayers’ dime.
The Park District’s solution was simple: personal trainers had to register with the Park District, book training sessions through the District, and have their customers pay the District, which would deduct a fee and remit the balance to the trainer.
And when too many of those trainers became adept at gaming that system, the Park District banned private trainers altogether and started running its own training program from which it – and its taxpayers – have modestly “profited”: the District’s 2014 profit on those trainers is currently estimated (pending the final audit) at approximately $15,000, on gross revenues of approximately $50,000.
That’s $15,000 of Park District expenses that its taxpayers don’t have to cover out of their own pockets.
That may not matter to those folks who view “government” as some sort of bottomless wellspring of money to be spent on whatever suits their fancies, but it matters to us. And we believe it matters to the vast majority of Park Ridge taxpayers who keep getting squeezed tighter and tighter every year for the disproportionate benefit of certain special interests, including the freeloaders.
Now the Park Ridge Public Library has a freeloader problem similar to the Park District’s: private tutors are running their for-profit tutoring businesses out of the Library. And at its August 18 meeting, the Library Board listened to several of those freeloaders, along with one non-freeloader tutor, speak to that issue.
Not surprisingly, the freeloaders defended their free “offices” with a collection of warm-and-fuzzies that repeatedly invoked some variation on the “for the children” theme. Their comments and anecdotes got so gooey and cloying at times that, if you closed your eyes, you might have sworn you were at a D-64 School Board meeting – like the one and only public discussion of Supt. Laurie Heinz’s recent $250,000-plus contract extension and $10,000(?) raise that Board president Tony Borrelli couldn’t steer into his beloved secretive closed sessions because the Illinois Open Meetings Act wouldn’t allow it.
Not one of those freeloaders attempted to explain exactly why they should be entitled to free “office” space to conduct their for-profit businesses at the taxpayers’ expense. Nor did any of them attempt to justify the competitive advantage and additional income they were enjoying from having their “overhead” covered by Park Ridge taxpayers, thereby letting a larger portion of their tutoring fees fall down to their personal bottom lines.
They also didn’t want to discuss how the Library might have trouble accommodating tutoring if ALL of our local tutors decided to become freeloaders and effectively turn the Library into one big Huntington Learning Center – only with the profits privatized (i.e., going into the tutors’ pockets) and the expenses socialized (i.e., pulled out of the taxpayers’ pockets).
Those kinds of reality checks were left to non-freeloader Jim Giovannini of Academic Tutoring Center, which has been in business for 25 years and occupies office space at 120 Main Street, a mere block from the Library. That means that, unlike the freeloaders, ATC pays rent to a building owner who, in turn, not only pays taxes to the City but also to School Districts 64 and 207, and to the Park District.
ATC employs approximately 300 tutors, roughly 50 of which regularly work in Park Ridge. So besides questioning the fairness of the Library giving his competitors what amounts to free rent, Giovannini also pointed out that “[t]here simply would be no room at the inn for anyone else” – a/k/a ordinary citizen patrons – if his firm and the other non-freeloader tutoring businesses that serve Park Ridge students were to join the freeloaders and make the Library their base of operations.
Only one of the current freeloaders – Laura Denver – said that she would be willing to pay a fee for the use of the Library. That deserves a Watchdog tail wag, both because it’s the right thing to say/do and because she was unique in that regard.
The others tap-danced their way around that question, babbling predictable nonsense like tutors attracting students and their family members who generate sales tax by spending money in Uptown (totally unverifiable and, at best, likely to be insignificant); tutors could make voluntary donations in lieu of being charged for use (as if the Library already has been inundated with voluntary donations from tutors); the old reliable “I’m a taxpayer so I already pay for the Library” (not unlike all those taxpayers who don’t leech free “office” space off their fellow taxpayers); and our personal favorite, from a tutor named Karen, who employed the “There goes Elvis!” gambit by comparing tutors to those “nannies” who bring their charges to the Library and its programs and thereby earn their income off the Library.
Tutors are like nannies? Seriously?
Nice try, Karen, but nannies on duty are caregivers/babysitters who effectively stand in loco parentis – which doesn’t mean “crazy parents” but, instead, “in place of the parents” – and bring kids to the Library, or to Panera, or to Oberweis, as if the parents were bringing them there.
As the Library trustee who first raised this issue, my only goals were to stop the freeloaders from exploiting a limited-size taxpayer-funded facility, and to level the playing field so that all local tutors can compete on as equal a cost footing as possible.
There may be more than two ways to achieve those goals, and I’d love to hear them. Meanwhile, however, I think either of the following could do the job:
1. The Library can take the Park District approach and require each tutor to register, book his/her tutoring sessions through the Library, and pay an hourly fee for the use of the Library; or
2. The Library can adopt the Winnetka-Northfield policy and prohibit the “[c]onducting [of] for-profit business between two or more persons (including, but not limited to, sales, interviews, and tutoring).” Because if the Library is going to ban for-profit tutoring it should also ban any freeloading attorneys, accountants, insurance agents, etc. who want to conduct their for-profit businesses on the taxpayers’ dime.
That howling you may already be hearing is likely coming from the freeloading tutors, while the wailing is likely coming from the parents of the kids being tutored by the freeloaders – in anticipation of any hourly fee under Alternative 1 being passed down to them.
In an indirect and limited way, that might make those parents “freeloaders,” too.
Robert J. Trizna
Editor and publisher
Member, Park Ridge Library Board
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