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Palm Harbor Library turns to collection agency to get overdue materials and fines

PALM HARBOR — Those overdue library books and DVDs that haven't been touched in ages might end up costing you more than a fine.

How about a mark on your credit rating?

In an effort to manage its materials and grapple with budget issues, Palm Harbor Library has contracted with a collection agency to recover overdue materials and fines.

In September, the library submitted an initial list of more than 800 names to the collection agency. Debbie Phillips, the library's administrative services director, said that list represented three years and almost $70,000 worth of overdue materials.

Most people have chosen to pay instead of returning materials. Although library officials would prefer to have materials returned, they welcome the boost in revenue.

Phillips said the library had considered using a collection agency in recent years but decided against it. Last year, a tough budget situation forced them to reconsider.

"We had to look at different ways of getting revenue," she said.

Head of circulation Cecile Creely said the library repeatedly sends notices for about 45 days before turning the matter over to the collection agency.

She said the agency, Unique Management Services, spends five months advising patrons to return materials and pay fees or face getting reported to a credit agency. At the six-month mark, the patron gets reported.

The Palm Harbor Library, along with Palm Harbor Parks and Recreation, is funded with revenue from property taxes — revenue that has slipped due to declining property values in the taxing district.

And it could get worse. Phillips estimated the library will see a 6 to 8 percent decrease in funding for the next fiscal year, which begins Oct. 1.

Other Pinellas County libraries have used the same agency for years and successfully recovered materials.

Karen Fortin, director of the Pinellas Park Public Library, said the practice helps libraries spend taxpayer dollars on expanding and improving collections and not on replacing them.

"The items that we purchase are purchased with taxpayer money," she said. "It's in the best interest of our taxpayers to maintain that collection."

Largo Public Library Director Casey McPhee said now she doesn't have to dedicate as much staff to chasing down overdue materials.

"We're trying to be more efficient in use of staff," she said.

However, Bert Weber, director of the Oldsmar Public Library, said her library stopped using the agency last year because her community needed a break from worrying about returning items amid the economic downturn.

"When the economic times got bad, we figured that adding another burden to that wasn't the way to go," she said.

Weber added that the library wouldn't rule out using the agency again in the future.

Palm Harbor Library turns to collection agency to get overdue materials and fines 03/10/11 [Last modified: Thursday, March 10, 2011 7:34pm]
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