SALISBURY TOWNSHIP BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
In an attempt to cut expenditures, the Salisbury Township Board of Commissioners is considering a ballot referendum on township funding of the Allentown Public Library.
The township annually provides $81,559 to the public library. The funding provides township residents free use of the library and access to the library system.
"If we can save that money, give it back to the taxpayers," said commissioner Vice President Robert Martucci Jr.
Township officials have been concerned about library funding ever since the 2009 closure of the Allentown Public Library South Branch, 601 W. Emmaus Avenue. Township residents must use the Allentown Public Library at 12th and Hamilton streets, Allentown.
The township has helped fund the Allentown Public Library since 1993. At that time, township residents approved a ballot referendum to be taxed to fund the library.
The township referendum on the public library is being considered for the Nov. 5 general election. It was too late to place the referendum on the May 21 primary ballot when township officials began to seriously consider putting the measure on the ballot.
The amount paid by the township to the library is funded through a tax assessed township residents in the amount of .06087 of a mill, according to township Assistant Manager-Director of Finance Cathy Bonaskiewich.
"If you stop assessing that millage, your tax bill would go down," Bonaskiewich reasoned.
"We've been avoiding a tax increase. But we all know it's coming. This could offset it," said Robert Martucci Jr. of rescinding the library tax.
Martucci has been the most vocal proponent on the commissioners' board of doing away with township funding of the public library.
Township Manager Randy Soriano said the amount of the library funding could be placed in the township general fund for use for other purposes.
"People will not know how much they're doing to save," Soriano offered.
"I tend to agree we should stop subsidizing the library. But I don't think you should link that to anything else," said Martucci.
"I think that if the South Branch hadn't closed, it wouldn't even be an issue," Martucci said.
"After hearing what it costs today and remember I was actively involved with it in '93, everybody didn't have a computer. The world has changed. Our kids in high school don't have to go to the library. They can go onto their computer," said Commissioner Debra Brinton, who said she was part of the initiative to provide township funding of the library.
"My family goes to the library," Brinton added.
An annual Allentown Public Library membership card is $40. There is no charge for Salisbury Township and Allentown School District residents. Members have access to Lehigh, Northampton, Carbon and Monroe public libraries.
"We can sit here and discuss this for the next hour, but I think you should put it on a referendum and let the citizens decide," said commissioner President James Brown.
The approximate 30-minute discussion about library funding took place at the April 11 township workshop after the regular meeting.
Even if township commissioners voted to place rescinding of the library tax on the November ballot, and voters approved dropping the funding, the township would still fund the library for 2014. It would need to give the library notice in April 2014. Township library funding would cease for 2015 at the earliest.
Initially, when the library tax was enacted, according to township officials, the Salisbury Township School District also funded the Allentown Public Library.
"This was supposed to be a joint venture between the municipality and the school district. But somehow it became a municipal tax. We really haven't shared the cost," Soriano said.
The public library is subsidized by the Allentown School District.
Soriano noted that putting Allentown Library funding to a township voters' test is not guarantee of a particular outcome.
When he was Fountain Hill manager, Soriano said that three percent of borough residents were library cardholders, "but the ballot question passed by 80 percent" to approve borough funding of the library.
Township commissioners have asked the public library to increase its outreach to township residents. Township Commissioner Joanne Ackerman has been the leading board advocate of increased library services for township resdents.
The library book van has visited township parks during the summer months.
Township officials have been trying to determine the number of township households or residents who use the public library. There are 5,000 township households.
Soriano is on the board of the Allentown Public Library. He said he would obtain more information about township residents' public library use at the May library board meeting and report back to commissioners.
Commissioners would need to vote on a resolution to place a library funding referendum on the ballot. The Lehigh County Election Board would determine the wording of the referendum.
"It's all in the way you word it," Brinton said of the library ballot referendum and its chances of passage or rejection by township voters.
Township commissioners next meet 7 p.m. May 9, township Municipal Building, 2900 S. Pike Avenue.
Allentown Public Library information: allentownpl.org.