By Rosalie Tirella
What a surprise! WPI, following the lead of the great Charles Monahan and his downtown college, has volunteered to make PILOT payments to the City of Worcester. More than $9 million over two decades! The money will be used to (re)open our flagship library on Salem Square. So now kids can go to the downtown Worcester Public Libray on Sundays or Mondays or Wednesday mornings (the times the library is now closed). InCity Times has been asking for this kind of commitment from Worcester’s private colleges for YEARS! And now, deep in the midst of a national, state and city financial meltdown, WPI has decided to do the right thing!
Thank you, WPI! Thank you, City Manager Mike O’Brien for brokering this ground-breaking agreement! Thank you (and we never thought we’d be writing this) District 2 City Councilor Phil Palmieri for hammering away at the colleges/nonprofits during city council meeting after city council meeting. City Councilor at Large Gary Rosen has also been wonderful, even suggesting that the colleges support our library system or open their libraries to Worcester families. And also thanks to District 4 City Councilor Barbara Haller who was pro-PILOT (Payment in Lieu for Taxes) from the get-go – years back.
But I also want to take time out to give special thanks to two people who were pretty much overlooked a few weeks ago when the Worcester City Council gave itself MOST of the credit. Special thanks to InCity Times supporter and pal Anthony Hmura of Leader Signs on Canterbury Street. I remember when I started my newspaper almost eight years ago – and got a call from a ballsy ol’ man named Tony, who saw the first copy of ICT and wanted to be part of the mayhem!
“Let’s get the college’s to pay us money – the leeches!” he screamed. It was a bit over the top, but after listening to Tony, I was on his side. He was right: the private colleges in Worcester are truly multi-million dollar corporations and it was wrong for them not to pay the City of Worcester any taxes. Yes, they were tax exempt because they expanded people’s minds, trained people for careers and all that good stuff. But really, colleges! Pay something for all the city services you use: fire trucks, policemen and women, clean water, snow plowing, street cleaning/sweeping, etc. What’s more Tony, a sign maker for more than 50 years, brought a class-consciousness to the table: the college kids came to Worcester from places like suburban New Jersey and Connecticut and took one look at Worcester and decided to make her their personal garbage can and urinal!
So the anti-college/pro-PILOT- Tony-Hmura ads ran in InCity Times – many of them a tad … primative. Like the time we got a clip art photo of a fat cat smoking a cigar and wrote HOLY CROSS COLLEGE over it. Or the time we told Father McFarland, president of Holy Cross, to put up or shut the hell up! We told him to do the Christian thing and help the poor people in the South Worcester neighborhood that Holy Cross is nestled in. We ran photos of crushed beer cans, stories of South Worcester folks who shared apartment buildings with Holy Cross students who fornicated in the hall ways! And we got a reaction from folks! They were pissed off at the colleges, too!
Soon our snowball began to roll down the ski slope! The other papers in town followed Tony Hmura’s lead with, shall we say, more measured pieces. And so the rumblings for PILOT grew and grew and grew. Soon East Side activist Gary Vecchio jumped into the fray and demanded the colleges pay PILOT. Gary was relentless! He was all over the airwaves, TV, newspapers!
And finally, after all the work and fulminating WPI gives us $9.1 million! Hurrah! Thanks to all!