Contrary to national trends, Washington County Library System maintains late fees

ST. GEORGE — More and more libraries around the nation are discontinuing the use of late fees, but the Washington County Library System is staying the course.

Across the United States, hundreds of libraries are turning away from late fees after studies indicated they do not deter late returns and disproportionately affect low-income residents. Washington County Library Director Joel Tucker told St. George News they currently have no plans to follow the recent trend.

“As we share resources with all of Washington County through all eight branches, we try to encourage people to return their items on time,” he said. “We don’t want to be punitive, per say, but we do want to encourage them to return them, and the late fees are the way to do that.”

The Washington County Library System currently charges patrons with overdue books a fee of 10 cents per book per day, not including Sundays and holidays. The fines have a limit of $2 per item. Residents with a library card can check out up to 20 items from any of the eight locations around the county.

After 30 days, the library changes the item’s overdue status to “lost,” and the patron is responsible for paying the replacement cost of it unless it is returned. Items that need to be replaced also accrue a $5 service charge.

The St. George branch of the Washington County Library System, Utah, Aug. 6, 2019 | File photo by Mori Kessler, St. George News

Late fees are allocated into the library’s fiscal year budget and are used to fund a number of amenities, including operational costs, new book purchases and community programs. Outside of the late fees, the library is also funded through taxpayer dollars. Roughly 5% of Washington County’s 2019 Fiscal Year Budget was allocated to the library, represented under Fund 22.

In 2019, the county library expected to receive over $3.8 million total in taxes and listed about $95,000 in revenues derived from forfeitures and fines. The library’s budget was balanced with total revenues and expenses estimated at over $4.4 million. The Washington County Library System has one of the lowest tax rates in the state despite being the fifth largest county library.

“I think we do a really great job with the service options that we do on that low tax rate,” Tucker said.

The late fine isn’t meant to be a punishment, he said, but rather an encouragement. As a community resource, there are a number of materials that are quite popular, and the library allows patrons to place holds on items that are not currently available but are expected to be returned in the coming weeks. When residents don’t return these popular materials on time, it can cause significant back-ups for other patrons.

The county library has made significant changes to help patrons avoid fees, including allowing library cardholders to extend their due dates over the phone, in person or online at no cost. After two renewals, however, the checked-out material must be returned to the library.

In Washington County, patrons with $5 or more in unpaid fines are unable to check out materials, and if a household cumulatively owes $50 or more, any individual within the household may be denied a library card.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2019, all rights reserved.

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