Originally Published: August 15, 2018 8:30 p.m.
A move that was intended to generate revenue for the Prescott Public Library reportedly has had the opposite result.
According to information from the library, the mid-2016 bid to raise money by charging fees for use of three of the library’s meeting rooms has ended up failing to break even.
Based on that information, the Prescott City Council decided Tuesday, Aug. 14, to rescind the library’s fees for nonprofit and non-commercial groups wishing to use the library’s Founder Suite rooms and its upper-level computer lab.
The rescission falls in line with an earlier recommendation by the Prescott Library Advisory Board.
In a letter to City Manager Michael Lamar, Library Advisory Board Chairman Jerry Jones said of the fees: “It’s really a ‘no win’ situation when we promote the library as a Free Library (opinion).”
Tuesday’s council decision did not come without some opposition, however.
Councilman Phil Goode challenged Library Director Roger Saft about the calculations that went into the recommendation.
Saft told the council that the library was spending more in staff time to collect the meeting-room fees than was being generated from the fees.
A city memo stated that a library assistant was spending about five hours a week “collecting fees, producing invoices, and interacting with patrons to collect funds for meeting room rentals” — amounting to an annual cost of $5,811 for wages and benefits.
That compares with the average of $5,292 that was collected in fiscal years 2017 and 2018.
Affecting the revenues was the fact that many local groups apparently chose to find other places to meet after the fees went into effect.
“There’s been a decrease in the use of those meeting rooms since the institutional fees,” Saft said.
Use the Founders Suite, for instance, dropped from 394 uses in fiscal-year 2016, to 276 in fiscal-year 2018.
Goode suggested that the library could collect the fees with less effort.
“Why do you have to invoice them?” he asked, noting that invoicing a customer tends to cost between $30 and $50 each, which exceeds the average $25 to $45 free for renting the rooms.
As an alternative to sending an invoice, Goode suggested that the library should ask renters to pay by credit card.
But Budget and Finance Director Mark Woodfill responded that setting up online payments for such minimal amounts would not be cost-effective. And, he said, many of the small nonprofit groups that use the library meeting rooms do not have organizational credit cards.
Still, Goode objected to eliminating the fees, noting that the fees were put into effect to help deal with Prescott’s financial challenges – especially the city’s pension debt with the Public Safety Personnel Retirement System (PSPRS).
“When I ran for the seat, I vowed that I would not support anything unless it was an essential service, primarily public safety,” Goode said. “I know it’s a minor amount, but I’m not going to support the change.”
Other council members disagreed, however.
Councilwoman Alexa Scholl, who serves as the council’s liaison to Library Advisory Board, called the rescission of the meeting-room fees “a step in the right direction.” She added: “It’s a public building; people are paying taxes to use the library.”
Councilman Steve Sischka brought up the small amount of revenue being generated.
“Ebenezer Scrooge comes to mind in this situation,” he said. “I think it’s totally worth it to give (the revenue generated by the fees) back to the community so that they can spend it elsewhere, and I would be totally for getting rid of these fees.”
The council voted 6-1 to rescind the fees, with Goode casting the only vote against the motion.
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