King County Library System Wipes All Late Fees, Will Resume Fines in September

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the King County Library Systemwhich hasn’t charged late fees for books and materials since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, wiped out all late fees on Wednesday and announced it would start fining procrastinating customers on September 15.

“We understand that customers may have backlogged documents during the pandemic, and we don’t want this to prevent them from accessing all that KCLS has to offer,” said system executive director Lisa Rosenblum, through a spokesperson. “We hope this initiative will give customers the financial assistance they may need and more time to return overdue items.”

This “fresh start for all,” as the system’s board called it, will not apply to documents deemed “lost,” that is, overdue by more than 30 days. On May 4, King County Libraries will start processing these fees again and customers will have until September 15 to return items or pay fees before accounts are blocked for further borrowing. The library system will send billing notices to accounts with charges over $25.

Late fines represent less than 1% of the library system’s budget, but a $208,000 grant from the King County Library System Foundation will help pay for them. A spokesperson said based on historical data, the library system would normally expect to raise up to $468,000, which it will not now, with the move.

King County Library Systems’ 50 locations are almost entirely outside Seattle, which has its own library system that stopped charging late fees a few months before the pandemic hit. The Seattle Library System is still suspending accounts with overdue materials and charging replacement fees for lost or damaged materials, and referring accounts with balances of $25 or more to collection agencies.

For years, the county library system has cost far more to operate than it earns from things like late fees. It remains open, like the Seattle Library, with the help of a county levy on the assessed value of the property, which pays 97% of the budget, according to the 2022 Library System Draft Budget Document. The library system raised the royalty “ceiling” (how much it charges per $1,000 of assessed value) in 2002 and 2010 to cover rising maintenance costs, salaries, and health care benefits. health.

The board planned to ask King County voters to raise the cash rate again per $1,000 of assessed value in 2020, but postponed due to the pandemic. As the $135 million budget has grown tighter, the library system has reduced the size of its staff — from 882 full-time staff in 2018 to a projected 819 this year, according to the budget narrative.

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