Should free room rental continue at Naperville municipal center?

 
 
Updated 10/7/2015 8:18 AM

Naperville City Council members say they've heard a lot of negative feedback about charging a fee to rent rooms in the municipal center, but they're going forward with it anyway.

A room rental fee has not yet been implemented, but council members on Tuesday night voted 7-2 in favor of exploring a policy that would charge users $30 or $60 to rent various rooms.

 

The move could generate $38,000 a year, which could help the city fill a $1.8 million operating deficit it faces in its next budget.

Mayor Steve Chirico said the proposal is part of efforts to fill that gap with a combination of spending cuts and fee increases that bring the cost of providing services in line with the prices charged to users.

Several council members called the proposed fee "minimal" and said it's a fair way to recoup the cost of scheduling, setting up and cleaning up after groups use the spaces.

"I don't think it's out of line at all," council member Paul Hinterlong said. "It's unfortunate, but we're trying to find savings within our budget."

Council members John Krummen and Patty Gustin voted against the potential fee, which would charge $30 to rent the lunchroom, meeting room A or meeting room B and $60 to rent both meeting rooms A and B on the municipal center's lower level.

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"This is the people's house and it is wrong to charge the people to use their house," Krummen said.

Gustin said she's concerned the city won't generate as much revenue as it expects if charging a fee drives groups to find new venues.

Three speakers who are part of small nonprofit groups that meet in the municipal center encouraged the council not to charge a rental fee.

"If you go forward with this policy, we will have to try to find other spaces," said Tim Yao of Naperville, a volunteer for National Novel Writing Month, which takes place every November.

But council members pointed out that other governmental organizations, such as the Naperville Public Library, Naperville Park District, Naperville Unit District 203 and Indian Prairie Unit District 204 all charge rental fees. According to a memo from Deputy City Manager Marcie Schatz and Executive Assistant Reggie Lynch, those fees range between $21 and $60 per hour or up to $70 for a 3½-hour span.

The city might risk losing public support from groups that use its space if a fee were to be charged, speakers said.

"The city, by supporting us, creates a lot of goodwill around everyone who comes here and knows of our organization," said Wayne Piccin with an Italian cultural group called Amici Club. "Our dues will not support paying even the small fee that you're talking about for the rental of the rooms."

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Chirico said there must be a middle ground between continuing to offer the spaces free and charging an amount that drives civic groups away and creates animosity.

"There's a solution someplace here," Chirico said. "I understand that we don't want to prevent people from being able to use this facility. But there's a reasonable argument from other taxpayers who say 'Why should my tax dollars be used to supplement a select group of people?'"

Council members will consider the rental fee proposal again during a future meeting.

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