Pay $80 a year for a library card? and its counterparts in the county library system will ask patrons living outside their cities to do just that starting July 1. With one exception.
On Thursday, the Joint Powers Authority Board, in response to public outcry, voted unanimously to exempt students who attend schools whose districts overlap with the boundaries of the Santa Clara County Library District.
"I am pleased to help the students in these economic times," wrote Councilwoman Debbie Giordano, the Milpitas representative on the JPA, in an email. "The $80 fee charged is to offset those that are not in the district and using the library facilities."
About 47 percent of patrons who use the Milpitas Public Library don't live in the city, said Linda Arbaugh, community librarian. About a quarter reside in San Jose, and slightly more than a fifth are from Fremont.
The state reimburses the libraries for each item checked out by those patrons, but the money has dwindled to 15¢ per item, she said.
"The real cost to us is more like $3," said Arbaugh.
By charging, the Santa Clara County Library system forgoes state reimbursement, while, at the same time, recovering an estimated $240,000 from 2 percent of the non-resident patrons. With the student exemptions, the revenue is estimated to go down to $208,000.
Students from preschool to the 12th grade will be eligible for a one-year limited use library card, good for five checked-out items and computer access. Students are required to provide proof of their student status and attend a school in a district that overlaps with the boundaries of the Santa Clara County Library District. Private school students are also eligible.
The theme of the "haves" and the "have nots" surfaced during the meeting on Thursday. San Jose residents who use the Campbell and Milpitas libraries stand to see their own library hours reduced to three days a week with impending city budget cuts.
"I can't tell you how much my stomach turns," said Jason Baker, mayor of Campbell, who said he supported the idea that libraries ought to be open and free. "However, I can't go to my constituents and ask them to do it alone." Half of the patrons of the Campbell Library are from San Jose, he said.
The decision to charge is "against the principle of a public library," said Jean Mordo, a Los Altos Hills councilman who sits on the Joint Powers Authority Board. "It should be free. Period."
Mordo said the Los Altos Library would look for a way to pay for the cards for non-Los Altos residents.
"Some kind of fee is reasonable, because they have their own library in their own district," said Dixie Lim, a Milpitas resident who visits the library with her daughters once or twice a week.
"You're free to use to use the library," she said, referring to the kids programs. "You just can't check anything out."
Suzan Fraticelli, a San Jose Berryessa resident, said she would consider paying $20 a year to use the Milpitas Public Library, but not $80.
"I can understand the cost and stuff, but if I can go to one for free, that's what I would do," she said. "If I came here enough, maybe that would be worth it, but $80 is ridiculous."