Overdue fees at the Menlo Park Library will soon be a thing of the past, following a unanimous vote by Menlo Park's City Council on April 13 to eliminate them.
In addition, the council agreed to direct staff to develop a pilot program to offer need-based scholarships for recreation programs throughout the city and to adopt a new equity statement: "The City of Menlo Park provides services and infrastructure that contribute to quality-of-life for all Menlo Park residents."
Traditionally, Menlo Park has aligned with the San Mateo County Libraries system, which, until it went fine-free, charged people $0.25 per day per item, up to $8 per item, and blocked people from checking out materials when an account owed more than $15, according to staff. The city expected to collect $42,000 in overdue fines in the 2020-21 fiscal year.
A number of Bay Area library systems have eliminated overdue fines in recent years, according to staff. Studies indicate that overdue fines disproportionately affect low-income residents and communities of color and that the cost to track and collect the overdue fines often exceeds the value of the fines that are collected.
In 2018, the San Mateo County Libraries system opted to eliminate overdue fines systemwide after conducting a pilot program in 2016 and 2017 to stop charging fines to children and teen library users. It found that children's circulation increased by 28% and registration for new library cards increased 70% in the first year of the program. After that success, the library system started fine-free cards for seniors ages 62 and up and saw an 8% increase in circulation in the first six months of the program, according to a memo from Anne-Marie Despain, director of library services for the San Mateo County Libraries system.
Research indicates that fines also don't incentivize people to return their borrowed materials on time, Despain reported.
The council also voted unanimously in favor of a pilot program to offer need-based scholarships to recreation programs throughout the city. The idea is to offer a 75% fee reduction for up to one class or activity per season to residents who can show proof that they receive some other form of public assistance, with set individual and family limits per year – the details will be ironed out in budget deliberations for the 2021-22 fiscal year.
The city already offers some scholarship programs.
At the Onetta Harris Community Center, Menlo Park Senior Center, Belle Haven after school program, and the Belle Haven Child Development Center, the Belle Haven Community Development Fund, an independent nonprofit, administers a scholarship program at the Onetta Harris Community Center to waive the $25 class fee for youth recreation classes. It also subsidizes up to eight spots in a service summer camp. Income verification is not required to benefit from the scholarship, and about 58 scholarships are awarded per year.
At the Arrillaga Family Gymnastics Center, people who are qualified based on their income may get a discounted hourly rate of $5 per hour compared to $16 per hour. It serves about 15 people per year and requires applicants to submit recent pay stubs and W-2 forms.
At the Burgess and Belle Haven pools, the Beyond Barriers Athletic Foundation provides free swim lessons and scholarships for summer camp and lifeguard certification programs. In 2019, it provided free swim lessons to 271 youth participants.
Staff members also presented two other pilot program alternatives for how to make recreation services more equitable in the city: to cut user fees for recreation programs for children up to 5 years old, or to offer a "Recreation Rx" program to provide a set number of "recreation prescriptions" or free class passes to people at risk of heart disease, or experiencing diabetes or obesity, but those did not move forward.