Updated, October 2022 – Public Statement-Southern Lehigh Public Library
Representing both the Board of Directors (the “Board”) and the Staff of the Southern Lehigh Public Library, I felt it timely to update the public and patrons on activity to date as it relates to Lower Saucon Township’s request to join the Southern Lehigh Public Library’s service area. While over the past year, we have publicly stated several times that this is not “our fight” and we do not want to be in the middle of it, the saga continues.
The year of 2022 has been a tumultuous year for the Southern Lehigh Public library (the “SLPL”). As a result of the request from Lower Saucon Township (LST) to join the SLPL’s service area, we found ourselves forced into the middle of a disagreement between LST and Hellertown Area Library (HAL). Pressure to accept LST into the SLPL’s direct service area was followed by threats of funding cuts from Upper Saucon Township and Lower Milford Township. These circumstances, along with additional pressure from the Southern Lehigh School District to accept it or risk cuts to its funding of the Library, resulted in a Board vote to accept the “no strings attached” $50,000 donation from LST.
There is a formal process that must be followed at a state level for LST to effectively end its relationship with HAL and join the SLPL direct service area. This includes obtaining approval from both the Office of Commonwealth Libraries (“OCL”) and the Governor’s Advisory Council on Library Development (the “Governor’s Advisory Council”). It is our understanding that neither LST nor HAL have taken any action to initiate that process. That is, they are yet to notify OCL of their desire to end their relationship. Without LST or HAL taking even preliminary steps to secure approvals necessary from OCL and the Governor’s Advisory Council to end their relationship, it would be premature for our Board to take any formal action on LST’s request to join the SLPL’s service area.
Despite the failure of LST or HAL to notify OCL of their intentions, in good faith reliance upon representations from LST’s solicitor that LST is seeking to join its service area, the Board tasked itself with researching the potential impact on services, collection, facilities, personnel, and finances if LST’s 11,000+ residents were to become part of the SLPL. For context, increasing the SLPL’s service area by 11,000 residents would be to increase its current service area by approximately 48%. By the Board’s best estimate, this would result in a budget deficit of approximately $156,479. The anticipated expenses include those associated with hiring of four (4) additional full-time employees and increasing the size of SLPL’s current materials budget by approximately $27,000+, which is mandated by OCL if the SLPL were to increase the size of its direct service area.
The Board also estimates that it would cost between $100,000-$150,000 to expand its existing facility by 450 square feet. Such expansion is necessary to provide working space for additional employees and to accommodate a larger collection, more patrons, and greater demand for Library services. While construction costs may be a one-time expense, a larger facility would also add to the SLPL’s annual maintenance and utility costs.
At the Board’s last meeting, it directed its Solicitor to send a letter to LST’s Solicitor advising that the Board is “on hold” with any activity as it relates to their joining the SLPL’s service area until they meet two (2) basic requirements. First, the Board requires the attendance of a council member(s) from the LST’s Council at a regularly scheduled meeting of the Board to present on why LST requests to join the SLPL’s service area and to discuss the potential benefits to the Library and its funding municipalities. Second, it requires the addition of a clearly worded agenda item at the next regularly scheduled LST Council meeting on the Township’s request to join the SLPL’s service area, as well as receive and address public comment on the matter. This item must be included in the agenda posted on the LST’s website no later than 24 hours in advance of the time of the meeting.
The SLPL’s Board of Directors and Staff are determined to continue to investigate ways to improve the SLPL’s long term sustainability and partnerships with the community. Currently, the SLPL is considering the option of a tax referendum that would serve to stabilize its future funding. While we are early in this investigation, we have met with several representatives of local libraries who have passed referendums.
It has also come to our attention that there is concern about the composition of the Board. Specifically, an issue has been raised of whether a funding municipality should be permitted to appoint a voting member to the Board where such municipality contributes less than 15% of the SLPL’s yearly income from all local municipal sources. Any change to the current Board composition to meet that standard would impact two of the SLPL’s funding municipalities, Lower Milford Township and the Borough of Coopersburg, who each appoint one (1) Board member. We continue to explore ways to maintain meaningful representation from each of our funding municipalities and the School District on the Board so that decisions impacting all residents are carefully thought out, fair and that all residents in the Southern Lehigh community are represented.
Bruce P. Eames
President, Southern Lehigh Public Library, Board of Directors