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Library Fines Are A Thing Of The Past In Contra Costa County

MARTINEZ (KPIX) - Some book lovers in the East Bay are getting a big break. Contra Costa County has ended the long-time tradition of imposing fines for overdue books at its 26 public libraries. All past fines have been forgiven.

The system has 650,000 card holders, but at one point, 18 percent of them—170,000 people—had their cards blocked for unpaid fines. So the county decided to do something about it

"Have you ever had a book that was overdue and you had to pay a fine?" KPIX-5's John Ramos asked 11-year old Wesley Fletcher at the Martinez branch.

"Uh, I don't think so… ," he said. But mom chimed in, "Yes, you have."

"We have? Oh, well I guess we have!" said Fletcher.

The library used to freeze people's accounts if they owed more than $10. But in December, county supervisors voted to become the largest county in California to stop charging overdue fines completely. On January 1, they wiped people's debt clean and welcomed everyone back to the library.

"Letting that dollar, or $5 fine keep someone from using the library is really contrary to our mission," says Deputy County Librarian, Nancy Kreiser.

People will still be sent reminder notices but they'll only be charged if books are damaged or lost for more than 30 days.

Petra Alegria has now returned with her son. She stopped coming when even the little fines began straining the budget.

"But 5 dollars…I can buy a gallon of milk for my children," says Alegria. "So I don't have to pay it anymore and that's nice."

"Customers are coming back," Kreiser says, "re-establishing their account, returning items maybe they hadn't returned before because they were long overdue…so, we're happy to hear those stories. That's exactly what we wanted to happen."

The fines used to generate about $300,000 for the library's materials fund, but that's also tied to property taxes and has been doing pretty well, of late.

So they don't think it will be felt in the aisles especially by 11-year old Fletcher. As for what how he thinks kids feel about the new no fines policy.

"We don't really care because we're not the ones paying," he laughed.

Administrators say the amount of money they may lose doing this is worth it if they can get all those people to come back to the library.

Contra Costa County believes this is the wave of the future and it looks like they may be right. San Mateo County just announced that, as of January 7, they too will no longer impose fines for overdue books.

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