It's become something of a common occurrence at the Sump Memorial Library in Papillion.
A resident, often new to the Papillion area, walks in to sign up for a library card. But the person's home lies outside city limits, in a sanitary and improvement district or in the city's extra zoning area.
Because she's not a Papillion resident, she's told she has to pay an annual $40 membership fee to use the library and check out books.
Confusion quickly ensues.
“I just had a 20-minute conversation today with a woman who transferred here from Pennsylvania and doesn't understand what an SID is and why it doesn't have library services,” Sump Library Director Robin Clark said.
“She's like, 'I live in Papillion.' I said, 'Your address is Papillion, but you don't live in the city.' ”
Looking to ease some of that confusion and expand the availability of library services to residents outside Papillion, the Sump library board of trustees is exploring whether to levy a library tax directly on local SIDs.
“The Sarpy County public library directors have been meeting and talking about this for a long time,” Clark said.
The same confusion tends to arise in municipal libraries across Sarpy County, all of which fund their operations with city tax dollars. There is no county library system, and none of the cities extend library privileges to residents in the county, SID or extra-territorial zoning area without charging for it.
Rates range from $35 in Springfield to $55 in La Vista.
In Papillion's case, it would be up to SID governments to decide whether to opt in.
Those who choose to participate would have a yet-to-be-determined library tax rolled into their SID taxes. The tax would cover all residents living within that SID and allow them to access the library without paying a separate nonresident fee.
Papillion's fee is scheduled to increase to $50 in the new city budget that would take effect Oct. 1. The city collected more than $25,000 in nonresident fees this year.
The proposal is still preliminary, Clark stressed. The library board has yet to reach out to SIDs to gauge interest, and the City Council would have to review and approve any interlocal agreements.
But she said a library tax could increase membership and make it easier for people to join their local library.
“We just like to see people have library services,” Clark said. “That's just the bottom line: We want to provide services to those families. We know people use the library, that when kids read earlier they do better in school, and it builds the community to have them coming to the library, to be using it as a community hub.”
Gerald Quick, chairman of the Riverchase subdivision SID, said the idea is worth investigating, although he'd have to learn more details, such as the amount of the proposed tax.
“I think that would be a service welcomed by the residents,” he said.
County tax bills for unincorporated Douglas County residents already include a separate library tax, allowing residents to join any Douglas County library, including Omaha's system. The 1.5-cent tax rate translates to a $23 library tax on a home valued at $150,000, Omaha Public Library Director Gary Wasdin said.
“Everybody thinks of the library as the free public library, which is good, but at the same time, well, it's not free,” Wasdin said. “You pay for it. We would give everybody in the world a free library card and we want everyone to use us, but we have a responsibility to the taxpayers.”
Several thousand unincorporated Sarpy residents drive to Omaha to use city libraries, he said.
“It's been a bit of a sore spot for them in Sarpy County,” he said. “There are so many residents, especially in the western half, that's not incorporated and they have no library. We see a lot of them driving out to Omaha and buying a library card because they don't have the ability to get a free card at their libraries.”
Clark said discussions should take place in Sarpy about eventually switching to a similar countywide tax.