With Troy library closing, Berkley increases fees

By: Jeremy Selweski | Woodward Talk | Published March 22, 2011

BERKLEY — The city is more than doubling its library card fee for people outside of Berkley in an effort to offset an anticipated increase in demand from Troy residents seeking a new library once theirs closes down.

The change includes an increase from $50 to $125 per year for non-Berkley residents hoping to utilize the library’s services and will go into effect on April 1. The City Council unanimously approved the Berkley Public Library Board of Trustees’ recommendation at its March 7 meeting.

As Library Director Celia Morse explained, the board wanted to raise the fee in order to bring Berkley more in line with other libraries in the area.

“We’re looking at a situation where there are neighboring libraries that are currently charging considerably more than we have been for nonresident library cards,” she told the council. “Up until now, we’ll sell maybe two cards a year. It’s not a huge money maker, but frankly I think it’s not really a service that we’re looking to advertise or encourage.”

The Troy Public Library will be closing its doors on May 1 following the narrow defeat of a millage proposal — which would have included a tax increase of just under 1 mill over a 10-year period — by voters in the November election. According to Morse, in recent months, regular Troy library users have been contacting other nearby libraries to determine how much it would cost them to purchase a library card and what services they would be offered.

“We don’t want to be the $50 bargain just three miles down the road,” she said, “so I recommended to the board that we might want to look at this. The board decided that $125 would be a suitable number. …We’re already taxed to our limit now serving the residents of Berkley, and we don’t really want a huge crowd of new people coming in and putting more demands on the library than we can actually handle.”

Morse noted that while Berkley has received some calls from Troy residents, the libraries that have garnered the most interest are those from cities that directly border Troy: Clawson, Madison Heights, Birmingham, Sterling Heights and Rochester Hills. Clawson and Madison Heights currently charge $100 annually for a nonresident library card, while Sterling Heights charges $200. Birmingham and Rochester Hills, meanwhile, do not sell library cards to people outside of their respective cities.

Other communities in the area utilize a similar policy. According to Huntington Woods Library Director Anne Hage, the Woods library has not offered nonresident cards for roughly a decade. The change was made after the library began contracting out its services to the city of Pleasant Ridge.

“About 10 years ago, we used to sell (nonresident library cards),” Hage recalled. “I think it was about $35 per year, but then we stopped doing it. There was just never much demand for it. … Lately, though, we have been getting calls from people asking about it. I’m pretty sure they’re all Troy residents.”

In Ferndale, nonresidents can purchase a library card, but that rate may soon be going up. According to interim Library Director Ed Burns, the annual fee has remained just $25 for many years.

“I was going to bring that up at our next board meeting (on March 31) because it’s something that we’ve been concerned about for quite some time,” he said. “Somebody that is coming in from another city is getting a real bargain over here. We feel that fee is way too low.”

The Berkley library is adding a new charge to another key area as well. On March 7, the City Council also approved the library’s request to add a fee of $1 per hour for guest passes to use the public Internet computers. Like the increase in the cost of nonresident library cards, the new fee will begin on April 1.

Morse explained that the charge would only apply to visitors without a library card. Although the library has never charged for this service in the past, she and the board felt that it was time for a change, as nearly all other libraries in the area already collect a similar fee.

The new charge will also help the library to purchase a wireless Internet bandwith upgrade for the more than 30 computers in the building, Morse said. That improvement will cost the library roughly $3,000 per year. According to Morse, the Madison Heights and Oak Park libraries already have a fee system like this in place, and it generates between $500 and $1,000 in revenues every month.

“We’re doing this kind of reluctantly,” she told the council, “but we feel on one hand that we need to be doing what everybody else is doing so that we’re not being taken advantage of. … Plus, we have too much traffic on our data circuit, and we need to upgrade it. We have to find a way to pay for that upgrade, so … based on the experiences of our neighbors, we think these visitor passes will bring in enough money to pay the extra cost for the circuit.”

The bottom line behind both fee increases, Morse said, is that she and the board do not want to be giving special privileges to people from outside the city when it is Berkley residents whose tax dollars pay for the library and all its services. She is confident, though, that these charges will only affect the most avid library patrons.

“The feeling is that if someone actually purchases a nonresident card, this is not going to be somebody that only uses the library once or twice,” Morse said. “This is probably going to be a fairly serious, heavy user. … The board was concerned that we would be putting an unfortunate burden on the (library) staff, and I think this is a price level where only the most serious visitors are actually going to put forth the money.”

Staff Writer Terry Oparka contributed to this report.