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Residents sitting on overdue library books might be allowed to return them scot-free -- with no late fees or questions asked.
About 3,000 Beaufort County Library patrons have not returned roughly 6,700 books, DVDs and other materials with a total value of $154,264. But the library staff hopes to put many of those items back on the shelves during an amnesty month early next year.
County Council's Community Services Committee unanimously approved the idea Monday, though it still needs a nod from the full council.
Library director Wlodek Zaryczny told committee members that outstanding items often need to be replaced, which eats into an already diminished budget for new materials.
"The idea is to have the items permanently on our collection, and not in someone's home or garage or car or van or wherever they may be," Zaryczny said. "We'd rather not buy another copy, have the materials in, and then expand our collection."
Zaryczny said after the meeting that no month has been picked yet for the amnesty. The staff needs time to publicize the program, so March is a possibility, he said.
In September, the library board of trustees, an advisory group that reports to the council, debated whether to hire a collection agency to nudge those with delinquent accounts to settle up.
But board members voted to try clemency first.
Once the one-month forgiveness expires, Zaryczny said the board will consider how to handle the remaining indebted borrowers. One option, he said, would be to report outstanding fees to a credit agency after a period of perhaps 120 days.
Committee members seemed to take a tough stance toward those with overdue material, and especially toward what Councilman Rick Caporale termed "repeat offenders."
"I wouldn't try this stuff at Walmart," Caporale said. "They won't quibble about a collection agency, or calling the police. This is theft."
Fines and fees on each item max out at $20, Zaryczny said after the meeting. Residents who have lost or damaged materials will have to pay for them and will not qualify for fine forgiveness, he told council.
The library last pardoned late fees in the mid-1990s during National Library Week, which Zaryczny said officials found successful.
Follow reporter Kyle Peterson at twitter.com/EyeOnBeaufortCo.