WEATHERFORD, Texas — A lot of the talk in Parker County lately has been about one of its quietest spots.
In late October, the Weatherford Public Library began charging a $50 annual fee to anyone who lives outside city limits.
Matthew Kromer is one of the regulars outside the city now having to pay up.
“Not super excited about it the first time I heard about it,” he said. “$50 does seem like a little bit of high fee.”
Weatherford officials declined an interview on the issue but told Parker County commissioners in a meeting that the library costs roughly $500,000 a year to operate. The county’s contribution has been $50,000. They asked the county for $250,000, but commissioners instead approved just over $50,000 again. County judge Pat Deen also declined an interview.
“All we’re trying to do is continue professional library services that we’ve provided for our citizens,” Weatherford City Manager James Hotopp said in the meeting.
“For the first week after they rolled it out there were lots of conversations, still polite, but heated, let’s just say,” Kromer said.
Of the 73,000 checkouts at the branch last year, 55% were to people outside the city, according to Hotopp.
Amber Northrip has two kids and works with STEM students in Millsap Independent School District.
“We’ve used everything from their summer reading programs to stuff for my classroom to supplement,” she said. “There’s a lot of other ways that we could cut back and make money without depriving kids of equal access.”
Like Kromer, Northrip says the fee is too high. Hundreds of people commented on the library’s initial Facebook post announcing the new cost.
“There’s just some families that don’t have that to spend,” she said. “It has to go to other places.”
The library is about more than books. Kromer comes in nearly every day for the internet.
“I see people applying for driver’s licenses in there all the time, paying their utility bills, so for people who either don’t have access to internet or can’t afford their own PC, it really is a vital service,” he said.
Commissioners suggested in the meeting that negotiations with the city could continue in the future, but neither side is sharing information on a solution to the new fee.
“To deny someone equal access to that kind of creates a disadvantage to other children I feel like,” Northrip said. “Giving them access to the library opens up not only their minds but their whole world.”