Library fees

Tuesday, January 3, 2006

Even without an increase, there have been complaints about the Cape Girardeau Public Library's out-of-district fees for a long time. But a good case could be made that fees aren't the real issue.

The problem isn't the amount so much as it is the logic. Most residents of Cape Girardeau assume they are within the library's service area and already pay taxes to support the popular services offered on Clark Street.

But the area served by the Cape Girardeau library is within boundaries established 40 years ago by the Missouri Legislature. Just think of all the changes that have occurred in the city over the past four decades. Among these are the expansion of the city limits while the library district remained static.

The library has long charged a fee to Cape Girardeau residents who live outside the library's service area. These city residents pay taxes to support the Riverside Regional Library system, which has branches in several area communities. Until the Cape Girardeau library recently increased it, the out-of-district fee was $24 a year for each household wishing to use the library. Keep in mind that no one who lives outside the district is required to use the Cape Girardeau library or pay its fees.

In the minds of library board members, the fee was a question of equitable payment for the services offered. Cape Girardeau residents inside the library district who have homes with an average value of $120,000 pay $36 a year in library taxes, whether or not they use the library. It seemed only fair that out-of-district users would be asked to pay an equal amount.

But the real issue may not be fees at all. A better argument might be that, after 40 years, the legislature should take another look at library-district boundaries. The situation in Cape Girardeau is repeated all over the state, and similar disparities abound.

The goal should be to provide the best library services possible at a fair cost to everyone. The Cape Girardeau library has made every effort to do just that. But without a shift in library boundaries, there are some Cape Girardeau residents who will always question why they are charged "extra" for using their own city's library.

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