PRINCETON: Council urges library to consider hiking cost of library cards for out-of-towners

By Philip Sean Curran, Staff Writer
Mayor Liz Lempert and the council want the Princeton Public Library to consider raising the cost of library cards for out-of-town patrons and ending the complimentary two-hour free parking they get in the Spring Street garage. Princeton officials have raised similar concerns about out-of-town residents enjoying the benefits of municipal services, like at the town senior center. They reject the notion they are being hostile to out-of towners but interested in “fairness,” in the mayor’s words.
“This has come up with a couple of institutions where the municipality is one of the main funders of it,” she said at the library’s board of trustees meeting Tuesday. She sits on the board, and participated in the meeting by conference call.
“But it shouldn’t be that if it’s the Princeton library,” she continued, “that it’s actually cheaper to live in West Windsor and buy a library card then to be a Princeton taxpayer and have that amount being sent to the library every year, between the library and the debt service to the parking garage.”
Library director Leslie Burger said Tuesday that the library sells cards to nonresidents at different rates: $50 for people 62 and older and $150 for everyone else. That’s separate from the cards the library sells to people who work in Princeton. Non-resident cards are good for one year.
By selling cards, the library earns approximately $63,000 a year. Ms. Burger has raised concern that if the fees increase by too much, that revenue stream would decrease because people might be less inclined to buy more expensive cards.
Ms. Burger said selling cards to out-of-towners is “good” for the community because it draws them to Princeton to do other things, like dining and shopping.
All cardholders get two hours of free parking in the parking garage, although others have taken advantage of the system by having library staff validate their parking even though they didn’t use the library.
Princeton officials want to make sure that cardholders who live in town are getting the free parking, not Princeton residents who cheat the system or library cardholders from other towns. Mayor Lempert also said there should be a written agreement between the town and the library on how the validation is supposed to work.
“I don’t go to New York City and expect to be able to park free in New York,” Mayor Lempert said.
But according to the library, it would be a chore to have staff check everyone to verify who is who.
“I think the hardest thing is if we want to try to figure out more carefully who’s entitled to the garage privilege, it’s just going to be a hassle,” said library trustee Andrew Erlichson.
Mayor Lempert raised the idea of having different color library cards — one for residents and one for non-residents — that would enable library employees to distinguish. She later rejected the idea that officials were engaging in xenophobia.
“A lot of people are feeling squeezed to live in town,” she said. “And it’s a question of how much should the residents of Princeton be bearing the burden for it.”
Students of Princeton University and non-resident employees of the school are eligible for free library cards, a gratuity that officials extended after the school made a large donation to the fundraising campaign to construct the library building. The university contributes annually to the library, and is one of its top 10 contributors every year, library officials said. 