LEWISTON — Members of the City Council signaled their support Tuesday for a proposal that would eliminate fines for overdue library items starting July 1.

Marcela Peres, director of the Lewiston Public Library, told city officials the policy has a disproportionate impact on youth and low-income families and eliminating fines has led to increases in library patronage in other communities.

She said the practice of pursuing late fines has been traditionally used as a source of revenue, and as a way to get library materials back as soon as possible, but said it hasn’t been effective at either.

In Lewiston, the library begins charging 10 cents per day for books and $1 per day for audio/visual items after an amnesty period of seven days past the due date. Accruing charges of $5 or more on a library account results in a block from checking out materials or using computers, including for schoolwork or job searching.

There are 625 accounts blocked, and nearly one-third are children or teenagers.

Peres told councilors Tuesday that “it’s pretty heartbreaking” to tell children that they can’t check out a book due to blocked accounts. She said eliminating fines would “ease the burden somewhat on residents,” and make students feel more welcome to use the library to compliment remote learning or check out research materials.

“A lot of this would be so much easier if they felt they could come back and use their library,” she said, adding that Portland eliminated fines last fall.

Several councilors said they support eliminating the fines, including Councilor Safiya Khalid, who said she had “first-hand experience” with the issue when she was a student. She said she used to ask her mother for money to pay off late fines.

“It’s hard to find that money when you’re a kid,” she said.

Peres said eliminating overdue fines would not change the borrower’s responsibility to return library materials. Borrowers receive multiple overdue notices, and if an item is six weeks overdue, they are sent a bill for the replacement cost.

Peres said the library is owed $24,000 between replacement costs and fines, but only $3,700 of that is fines.

Councilor Lee Clement said he is supportive of eliminating fines, but wants to “make sure there is still responsibility.

The revenue from fines has also fallen in recent years. In each of the past five years, the amount collected has dropped from a high of about $4,800 in fiscal year 2015-16 to roughly $1,600 in fiscal year 2019-20.

Councilor Luke Jensen said the library’s focus on equity fits into citywide discussions, and that the decision may also promote better learning outcomes and reading levels for young people.

Peres said the library chose July 1, the start of a new fiscal year, because similar conversations are being held by the Auburn Public Library. She said due to how Auburn’s library is funded, officials there need more time to explore how the library could also eliminate fees.

Officials in Lewiston said based on the reaction Tuesday, the City Council will vote on eliminating the fines at an upcoming meeting.

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