SALISBURY TOWNSHIP BOARD OF COMMISSIONERS
A referendum on the Nov. 5 municipal election ballot may bring a 20-year tradition to a close in Salisbury Township.
The Salisbury Township Board of Commissioners voted 3-2 to authorize Township Manager Randy Soriano to contact the Lehigh County Board of Elections to place a referendum on the ballot asking township residents to vote on continuation of the Allentown Public Library tax.
"We will forward that to the county and let the voters decide Nov. 5," Soriano said.
Voting in favor of placing the library referendum on the ballot were township board President James Brown, Vice President Robert Martucci Jr. and Commissioner James Seagreaves.
Voting against placing the library referendum on the ballot were township Commissioners Joanne Ackerman and Debra Brinton.
The vote followed an approximate one-hour discussion, debate and presentation on Allentown Public Library services at the Aug. 22 township meeting.
Renee Haines, Allentown Public Library Director, made the presentation.
Soriano reviewed the history of township funding of the Allentown Library. Salisbury residents voted in Nov. 2, 1993, to support an Allentown library tax.
The township levies an annual .06087 mills tax on each $1,000 of taxable property in the township, providing $82,000 in funds to the library each year.
The township library tax levy works out to be about $15 on average, per household, based on the average township property assessment of $230,000, according to Soriano.
An annual Allentown library household membership is $40 "which is more than twice the amount they spend now," Haines pointed out.
According to Haines, 2,366 of 5,330 households in Salisbury, or 44 percent, have Allentown Public Library cards.
"Just under half of the households in the township hold memberships," Haines said.
"I think the charts are a little misleading. While it shows membership, it doesn't show usage," Martucci said of figures supplied by Haines to commissioners.
"I have a [library] card for 18 years. I've never used it," Brown said. "If I need something looked up, I ask my son and he looks it up."
The Allentown library has 2,200 electronic items, including e-books and e-magazines, which are available via the library website.
"No matter where you live, they are accessible," Haines said.
Township residents have access to the Allentown library, as well as other libraries in the Lehigh Valley library system, which includes the Emmaus Public Library and Bethlehem Public Library.
"Any library user can access materials at these libraries," said Haines.
"You don't have to drive. They'll show up at your door within 24 hours," Haines said of requests for library materials, which include games and movies.
"I think what we have to do is educate the residents. It's not just a library anymore," Ackerman said.
Haines said nationally, there are 218 million sports fans, 1.3 billion movie-goers and 1.4 billion public library users.
"For every $34, the average taxpayer receives 3 1/2 times in value," Haines said.
Haines said a library member borrows on average seven books annually. One book might sell for $16.99 on Amazon, Haines said.
Haines was asked by an audience member if the Allentown Library South Side Branch along Emmaus Avenue will reopen.
"That is my hope," Haines said.
Closure of the branch has been cited by Martucci in his efforts to put library funding to a test by township voters.
Brinton noted that, for some Salisbury residents, the Emmaus or Bethlehem libraries might be of closer proximity.
Ackerman lauded the Allentown Library book van visit during the township summer playground program.
"There were more children this year than the year before," Ackerman said of the library playground program.
Brinton and Ackerman said they received no complaints from constituents about the library tax. In contrast, they said, they received emails and phone calls in support of the township library tax.
"I've never received an email or a phone call saying, 'I don't want to pay this tax anymore.' I did get requests not to do away with it," Brinton said.
Ackerman concurred, saying, "They asked, 'Where are we building our library?'" [if township Allentown library funding is ended].
"By taking away this service, you're taking away their access," Haines said.
"We're not taking it away. We're putting it up to the voters," Brown said.
"I'm curious to see how that shakes out," Seagreaves said of the library tax ballot vote.
"I just feel the people should have their right to make the decision if they want to continue this [library funding]," Brown said.
Brinton said a public meeting should be held concerning township funding of the Allentown library.
"We have had public meetings about the library, but we haven't had a meeting devoted to the library. We haven't done that," Soriano said.
"It's no secret that tax increases are looming. So, we're trying to soften the blow," Martucci said regarding his push for the library tax ballot referendum.
Martucci said township residents still could become Allentown library members, if they chose to do so.
If township voters reject continued funding of the library, township officials could decide to continue funding by earmarking funds in the township budget.
"If voters decide 'no," we would still have to decide to provide or not," Soriano said of Allentown library funding.