Agencies would recover unpaid fines
By Scott Bellile
Libraries in Waupaca and Outagamie counties can soon begin reporting to debt collectors the names of patrons whose bills for unreturned materials exceed $50.
The Administrative Advisory Committee for OWLSnet (Outagamie Waupaca Library System) will propose authorizing the use of collection agencies at its September meeting.
The practice is already permitted under state law, but OWLSnet member libraries are waiting until the Administrative Advisory Committee learns everyone is on board before beginning.
Each library can ultimately decide whether to send debt collectors after patrons.
OWLSnet recommends its member libraries at least sign resolutions in support of the practice, as member libraries’ materials are exchanged with one another through the interlibrary loan program.
Senate Bill 466, signed by Gov. Scott Walker in February, authorized libraries to notify debt collectors and law enforcement of delinquent accounts.
SB-466 states libraries can share with the collection agency the debtor’s name, contact information, amount owed, types of materials checked out and number of overdue materials. Libraries cannot disclose which titles the debtor checked out.
The purposes of SB-466 are to reduce the materials and tax dollars lost by delinquent accounts and to discourage people from returning materials late.
Libraries in communities, including New London, Hortonville, Weyauwega, Fremont, Clintonville and Waupaca, have passed resolutions in favor of OWLSnet’s proposal.
Ann Hunt, director for New London Public Library, told the New London Library/Museum Board in June libraries will have discretion in deciding how soon to report patrons with delinquent accounts.
They will be free to postpone reporting if they realize the debtor needs extra time because of, say, a death in the family or a health issue.
Hunt said unpaid bills will not hurt the debtor’s credit score, because late accounts will not be reported to their credit bureaus.
“Some libraries want to start yesterday,” Hunt said of using collection agencies. “I’m not happy with the fines part of it (in situations where) the stuff is back, so to me what’s important is getting the materials back.”
Peg Burington, director of the Waupaca Area Public Library, said in the past, Waupaca police would issue citations and summons to delinquent patrons as a last resort.
She said since the 2016 law’s passage, many Wisconsin libraries are using Unique Management Services, a company which specializes in recovering late library materials via methods including skip tracing.
“What people have to understand is that the items that aren’t returned to the library are then not available to the patrons that want to use them,” Burington said. “It’s costly to recover them, if we can. If the items can’t be recovered, we have to purchase new items. That means the money to purchase new items is money out of the budget that we can’t use.”
In the case of Neuschafer Community Library in Fremont, the library supports cracking down on users registered to Fremont who owe materials to other OWLsnet libraries.
But Neuschafer Community Library Director Susan O’Leary Frick said she does not expect to get a third party involved when all of a person’s unreturned materials belong to Neuschafer.
“Fremont has chosen to allow other libraries using debt collectors to collect from Fremont patrons that have other libraries’ materials checked out to them, but we are not using the debt collection here in Fremont,” O’Leary Frick said. “We are lucky it is not much of a problem here.”
Carolyn Habeck, director of Hortonville Public Library, said patrons take advantage of library offerings like food for fines and an adult summer reading program which helps them clear fines.
She predicted Hortonville will rarely utilize a debt collector.
“We don’t have a lot of people that have fees to that extent,” Habeck said. “And usually when we contact them, people are pretty good about bringing their stuff back.”
An example schedule provided by New London Public Library is as follows:
• First overdue: Three days after due date (library does not mail these but will send email or text notifications to people who sign up for them).
• Second overdue: 14 days after due date (library will mail these).
• Bill: 28 days after due date (library will mail these).
• Collection: 45 days after due date (a little more than two weeks for people to talk to library after they receive the bill).
• The collection agency sends out a letter the day it gets the account.
• Three weeks later, the agency will send a follow-up letter.
• Two weeks after that, the debtor is called at home in the evening or Saturday. Skip tracing methods will be used for a person who has moved to send a final notice letter to his or her new address.
• Fourteen days after that letter, the person is called again.
OWLSnet member libraries are in New London, Hortonville, Fremont, Appleton, Clintonville, Manawa, Shiocton, Black Creek, Seymour, Iola, Marion, Scandinavia, Waupaca, Weyauwega, Kaukauna, Kimberly and Little Chute.
Angie Landsverk contributed to this article.