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$109,023.31 not collected in library fines/fees

By: Stephanie Dumm, News Messenger Reporter
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Twelve Bridges Library staff will try to collect $109,023.31 in fines, fees and lost items. That figure is a combination of the uncollected fees and fines since fiscal year 2007-2008, according to a report by library coordinator Renae Mahaffey. The report for July, August and September 2011 was given to members of the Library Advisory Committee/Board during its Nov. 2 meeting. In 2007-2008, $15,208.48 in library fines/fees were uncollected; in 2008-2009, $28,490.94 were uncollected; and in 2009-2010, $33,978.91 were uncollected. So far, in 2010-2011, $31,344.98 has not been collected, according to the report. The total amount of uncollected fines and fees since 2007 is $109,023.31. There are also 5,577 lost and missing items, according to the report. Friends of the Lincoln Library secretary Vi Kuka said her organization, a nonprofit fundraising organization for the library, has previously been given the amounts of uncollected fines and fees. “We were just always given some excuse, like we are trying to collect them,” Kuka said. “There wasn’t any real campaign set up to collect them.” Kuka said notices letting library patrons know they owed the library money were mailed by library staff but stopped in the last year “because of postage costs.” “A solution needs to be found,” Kuka said. “At this time, there is no money to buy books anymore; there’s no money in the budget. All of these missing materials could be used in our library.” Kuka said some of the books could be missing because some volunteers may not check books in correctly after they are returned so “they wind up on the shelf and are still missing.” A list of lost books should be printed and the books looked for on the shelves, according to Kuka. “If we had that money, the Carnegie (Library) could be open,” Kuka said. “I’d like to see (uncollected fines/fees) put toward keeping the library open at the 23-hour mark or giving additional hours to seasonal staff.” Interim library director Jon Torkelson was asked Wednesday what he thought about Kuka’s suggestions for the uncollected fines/fees. “I think that those suggestions are good but we don’t know what we are going to collect so it’s hard to know how to use those funds if you don’t really know what you are going to have,” Torkelson said. “Hours and staffing are critical for the library but it’s hard to know if the effort collecting those monies would be sufficient to do that with it.” It’s also difficult “to allocate funds when you don’t have them,” Torkelson added. “Uncollected fines and fees arise when patrons do not turn in their materials on a timely basis or lose them,” said Lincoln Assistant City Manager/Chief Financial Officer Anna Jatczak. “Attempts are made by staff to collect the outstanding amounts. Some fines are disputed and usually waived. Some fines will never be recovered if patrons move or refuse to pay.” Jatczak said a collection agency would not be used to recover the uncollected fines and fees “since the amounts are relatively small.” “Due to the decreasing staff resources over the years, there has not been a focus on following up with patrons to recover fines,” Jatczak said. Jatczak said she is working with library coordinator Mahaffey and interim library director Torkelson “to put a plan in place to make a concerted effort to collect outstanding amounts.” Volunteers will assist with that process, according to Jatczak, and “any monies collected are General Fund revenues.” Library Advisory Board member David Gordon, and wife Betty Gordon, have volunteered to “put together a program to help collect the overdue fees and fines,” according to David Gordon. The program will include sending out letters to library patrons with overdue fines and/or lost materials, Gordon said, “to remind them of the importance of returning books in their possession and paying overdue fines. “I believe the collections would go to the General Fund. I would hope it would be allocated to our important library,” Gordon said. “This is an important program because it identifies another source of needed library support funds.” Gordon said he hopes “some of the funds be used to provide back-room help so critical for the library’s operation” and also “be isolated to serving library programs like Mother Goose on the Loose.” Torkelson, who started working at the library on Nov. 23, said collecting the outstanding fines and fees “is one of the things to start working on right away.” “I think we will work on collecting as much as we can. We want to move on that,” Torkelson said. “I think it’s common for there to be some outstanding fines in public libraries. You hope people bring things back on time and set a certain limit above where people can’t check things out.”