Visitors to the city of Kenai will be able to use the library free of charge and pay the same amount as Kenai residents to park while dipnetting, at least for one more summer.
The city council Wednesday shot down a Library Commission recommendation to start charging a $25 registration fee to folks from out of state who wish to borrow books from the Kenai Community Library or spend time on the Internet there.
The council had also considered allowing Kenai residents to park free at the city’s two beach parking lots while charging others $10 a day to park during the dipnet fishery.
After some discussion, Mayor Pat Porter said she would ask city administration to collect demographic data on motorists who park at the north beach and south beach parking lots while dipnetting.
The proposed perk to residents also included free boat launching at the City Dock during the July fishery. Nonresidents would be charged to launch.
The proposed library fee was prompted by out of towners absconding with library books during their visits to Kenai. The fee for a two-year registration would be collected to cover the cost of replacing lost books.
Council member Mike Boyle said he viewed the measure as taking advantage of city visitors when the city should be welcoming the tourist business.
Library Director Mary Jo Joiner said, on the flip side, she must consider the needs of the residents who pay for the library.
“It becomes a matter of balancing,” Joiner said Thursday.
In addition to viewing the fee as a way to recover the cost of lost materials which currently stands at $1,100 Joiner said she hoped the fee would deter some out-of-state people from coming to the library to use the Internet, a service that 810 people waited for last August.
The library has seven computers patrons may use for up to 45 minutes during the summer. Two stand-up computer stations can by used for 20 minutes.
Because the city is considering going to residents for approval of issuing bonds to expand the library, and many of the out-of-town library patrons are relatives of city residents, Council member Bob Molloy said he questioned the timing of the proposed fee.
Mayor Porter, Vice-mayor Joe Moore and Council member Linda Swarner were in favor of the fee. The measure failed on a 4-3 vote. Student representative Adam DeMello also voted against charging out-of-state visitors.
Some of the same council members opposed to charging library use fees to out-of-state visitors said it would be OK to charge out of towners to park while dipnetting, but allow residents to park free.
Boyle said the free parking is a benefit the city should give to its residents.
Molloy and Council member Rick Ross said they would like city administration to look at a discount system based on use. Though no formal program was outlined, the discount would attract those who dipnet more than two or three times during the fishery namely people who live in or near Kenai and be less attractive to out of towners.
After reviewing legal research by City Attorney Cary Graves, Moore, who originated the idea of free parking for residents, said, “I don’t think I’m ready to take this to the Supreme Court to support the $10 parking fee.”
Graves’ research indicated distinguishing between two classes of people based on residency might conflict legally with the Public Trust Doctrine, which guarantees all people access to public trust lands such as tidelands, waters and living resources of the state.
Porter recommended the city collect data this year to try to determine how many people parking at the beaches and boat launch are Kenai residents.
“With the approval of council, we’ll task our administration with data collection this summer,” she said.
Phil Hermanek can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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