With the passage of two millages last fall, residents in Alpena County agreed to continue supporting their local library.
Not so Alpena County Library users in the three surrounding counties of Alcona, Montmorency and Presque Isle, who do not currently pay for any millages and up until this point have been able to access all of the library's electronic services for free.
In attempt to make usage of the library more equitable, Alpena County Library's board of trustees has decided to begin charging patrons of the three additional counties an annual fee of $25. That fees goes into effect March 1.
"The main reason for that was the board felt that we can't in good conscience raise the taxes on our own people and then offer those services completely free to non-residents," said Library Director Eric Magness-Eubank. "Especially since we have a substantial number of people from other counties who have our library cards."
Currently, there are 10,000 library card holders within Alpena County and 2,000 in the other three counties combined.
"If it were just a handful of people, we wouldn't bother," Magness-Eubank said. "The board has decided that we can no longer let out-of-county residents have completely free access to the library, and so we've instituted the $25 a year annual fee."
The electronic services include being able to download both digital audiobooks and eBooks on a portable device at home or anywhere else; reading any of 136 different magazines online via Zinio digital magazines; search the library's online catalogue as well as the Michigan e-library database; and getting online live homework help through tutor.com.
Since making the decision to charge, library staff has been working to get the word out to users. As patrons come into the library, they are informed of the usage fee. Notification also is going out in the Friends of the Library newsletter, plus the information will be posted within the library and on the library's website, www.alpenalibrary.org.
Magness-Eubank said charging a fee such as the $25 is a common practice within the state.
"It's more common downstate where there are a lot of district issues," he said. "There are some places that even have fees as high as $100, which is essentially saying that you have to really want to use us. We didn't think that amount was right, at least not for our area."
Anyone coming into the library, regardless of where they live, can still use resources within the library for free.
"If they want circulation privileges, if they want to check out eBooks or do online tutoring, that's what we're going to charge for," Magness-Eubank said. "It used to be that you had to come into Alpena to make full use of the library, and now that can be done remotely. Essentially these things are not cheap to offer, and we felt that everyone who is using the system needed to be paying into the system."
He also said the library currently expends $20,000 a year to keep the electronic services up and running.
Alpena County residents pay for those services through their taxes, which now include a 10-year .50 mill renewal and a new five-year .25 mill. The renewal covers operations and programming, while the new millage will go primarily for infrastructure.
"Our local residents pay for the electronic services through their taxes," Magness-Eubank said. "I should also note that the other areas do have their own libraries . It's not like they will be without access to a library should they not be able to afford the fee."
He expects to lose some patrons from Alcona, Montmorency and Presque Isle counties with the new charge, but he hopes it will not be that many.
"We'll probably lose some people from this, but the ones we've talked to in the library have been very understanding and do understand why we have to do it," he said. "So far most of them don't think it is an unfair thing since they have been using something without essentially having to pay for it."