People who do not live or own property in Galveston County will soon have to pay a $50 annual household fee to use services at League City’s Helen Hall Library.

The backstory

In response to League City’s Helen Hall Library’s capacity and overhead challenges, League City City Council voted Jan. 9 to approve a library card fee for users who do not live or own property in League City or Galveston County, effective March 4, according to agenda documents.

A needs assessment of Helen Hall Library presented to City Council in 2019 showed that the facility lacked adequate parking and seating for library visitors, and also lacked a sufficient staff-to-patron ratio.

Originally, the city proposed an annual fee of $180, but council member Chad Tressler amended the motion to bring the fee down to $50 and expand the list of people who would continue to use library services for free to include Galveston County.

Those opposed

“I think charging for library cards is absolutely outrageous,” League City resident Jeff Morello said during the meeting. “$180 per year—that’s a Netflix subscription, that’s Hulu, that’s HBO Max ... $180 dollars is a lot for one person to go to the library.”

Some residents voiced opinions that the fee was introduced to deter people from using the library.

“Even with our great library, this amount is not going to be anything that anyone is actually going to want to pay,” League City resident William Pate said during the meeting. “So really, this doesn’t appear to be an attempt to generate revenue but instead an attempt to drive people away from our libraries.”

In their own words

Part of the reason the city pursued introducing the fee is to avoid having to build a new library, which, according to the needs assessment presented in 2019, would cost around $75 million, Mayor Nick Long said.

“Clearly, that’s a lot of money,” Long said. “A $75 million capital project is a very large number—plus then the cost of staffing that library, providing all the services and everything else that goes with that, which would be kind of a recurring cost.”

Long added that charging for library cards is an attempt to “delay that project for as long as needed,” but also said that the city will eventually have to spend money on building a second library.

“There probably will be a time when we have to build that west side library,” Long said. “How that gets built and what form that takes I think is still up for discussion.”