Cape library board raises out-of-district fee

Thursday, December 22, 2005

The board is not bound by the city charter's limit on raising fees without voter approval.

Cape Girardeau residents who live outside the public library's taxing boundaries face a 50 percent fee increase to use the public library.

That upsets city residents who question why they should have to pay a fee to use the public library and why the library board can implement such an increase without voter approval.

Local officials say the city charter's fee restriction doesn't apply to the library.

"The library district is its own entity," said city attorney Eric Cunningham.

The mayor and city council appoint the members of the library board, but otherwise the municipal government has no control over the operations of the library, he said.

The library has its own property tax levy. Under state law, it also can charge a fee to out-of-district library users and has done so for years, said library director Betty Martin.

"We are governed by state statutes, not by city ordinance," she said.

The city charter prohibits the city council from raising user fees by more than 5 percent annually without voter approval. But that doesn't apply to library fees, Cunningham said.

The library board increased the out-of-district annual fee by $12. Households outside the library district will have to pay $36 a year to use the library beginning Jan. 1, said library director Betty Martin.

The move has been greeted with criticism from some residents.

"They think the library board is being mean and arbitrary," said Martin.

But the state legislature in 1965 froze the boundaries of Missouri's library districts, she said, which means the size of the district hasn't changed even though the city has expanded.

Cape Girardeau residents who live outside the library district pay a property tax that supports Riverside Regional Library in Jackson.

Those inside the Cape Girardeau district pay a 16.5-cent property tax levy that supports the local library.

A taxpayer who lives in a house valued at $120,000 pays $36 a year to the public library, Martin said.

In contrast, out-of-district users were paying a fee of only $24 a year to use the library. That fee hadn't changed for the past 14 years, she said.

About 300 people who live in Cape Girardeau or elsewhere currently have out-of-district library cards.

Library officials have mailed letters to those card holders notifying them of the fee increase.

Library officials said it was time to raise the fee to better meet operating costs.

Martin said it's a household fee, which means that all family members in that home have access to the library on that same out-of-district user card.

"It is a great deal," she said.

The fee isn't charged all out-of-district residents, only those who want to use the library, Martin said.

But that doesn't help residents like Rachel Hessenkemper, who want to use the Cape Girardeau library without having to pay a fee.

Hessenkemper lives in a condominium at 1602 Amblewood Drive. But her neighborhood north of Lexington Avenue and west of Cape Rock Drive is outside of the library district.

"I just don't understand it," she said Wednesday.

She stopped by the library about a month ago to get a library card. She said she was "really shocked" when she learned it would cost her.

So she isn't getting a library card. She doesn't plan to drive to Riverside Regional Library in Jackson to check out a book, either.

"I read one book maybe every three months," she said. "It would be cheaper for me to buy them."

mbliss@semissourian.com

335-6611, extension 123

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