Borough not budging on library budget

By on December 9, 2014

The Ephrata Public Library made headlines recently as funding challenges induced dramatic cuts in services, hours of operation, and staff.

So, as expected, library leaders brought their case for additional funding to Ephrata Borough’s Budget and Finance Committee meeting on Dec. 1.

So far council has resisted that request.

At Monday night’s borough council work session, Dale Hertzog temporarily yielded his gavel as president to vice president Susan Rowe to provide what he described as “a more complete picture regarding items in that presentation.”

Hertzog questioned the notion that the state suggests each municipality fund the library at a $5 per-capita rate. There’s no such recommendation in either the Pennsylvania Public Library Code or Title 22 of the PA Code, Hertzog said.

Hertzog noted that he is waiting for clarification on the suggested per-capita funding from Eileen Kocher, the State Librarian.

Though the per-capita contribution to the library has remained flat for a decade, Hertzog said the borough’s “in-kind” contributions to the library totaled $403,190 per year.

According to 2013 figures, the borough paid the library $44,000 in civic contributions; $4,000 in computer contribution; $83,141 in electric utilities, which he projects at $95,000 for 2014; $6,845 in audit fees; $4,800 in lawn care and snow removal services; $4,500 for insurance; $2,700 for an art grant; and $249,912 in space less rent, he said.

“The borough provides these things with little acknowledgment,” noted Hertzog. “If one were to add the proposed contribution of $22,970 to the total just mentioned, the borough’s per capita calculates to a whopping $31.81.”

If the space item is not included in the total, the per capita calculates to $13.51. Since I don’t believe any other municipality provides any “in kind” contribution, the borough continues to lead the way by not only being the only municipality to provide an in-kind contribution, but an in-kind contribution that is significant and substantial and ongoing.”

Another of the several areas addressed, Hertzog wanted to clarify that an examination of the facts reveals that in 1992 the borough purchased the property where the Library is situated for $471,000.

In 1995, the borough subsequently floated a bond and paid $990,402. In total the borough paid $1,638,000 and the Library paid $1,360,000 for the new building.

“Don’t think anyone can say the borough didn’t lead the way at the time,” stated Hertzog.

Hertzog also discussed another aspect of the funding question mentioned last week, that of a projected budget gap for 2015.

“A question raised centered on other sources of revenue not being included in the projected budget,” said Hertzog. “Since there was little discussion on this, I have requested the 2012, 2013, 2014 EPL budget to determine what might be a reasonable projected revenue for the library in 2015. To date, I have not yet received that information.”

In considering the libraries funding woes, Hertzog pointed out that the library services communities other than Ephrata Borough.

Circulation numbers were shared and illustrated on a chart/ graph showing circulation numbers over the past 10 years.

Hertzog cited an Ephrata Review article where the library director mentioned that approximately half of the circulation is to members outside of the direct service area of Ephrata Borough, Akron Borough, Ephrata Township, and Clay Township.

“Consequently, I am seeking the circulation numbers attributable to Ephrata Borough over that same time period,” explained Hertzog. “This data will better demonstrate our share of the circulation numbers. To date, I have not yet received that information.”

At last Monday’s meeting Hertzog said he learned the Ephrata Public Library can not solicit any municipality outside their direct service area. However, he also learned that the library can begin the process to “expand their service area or assess an annual fee to those members who reside outside the direct service area.

“Exploring these options would help ease the burden of the four municipalities in the service area who are essentially underwriting services for residents outside their municipal limits,” Hertzog pointed out. “As a simple example, Ephrata Borough does not provide leaf bags and leaf pickup to residents outside our municipal limits, nor should we.”

Hertzog said that with the aforementioned gaps in data and outstanding questions he is hard pressed to support particular recommendations for additional support.

“I’m also very concerned on two other fronts: consistency of our policy and impacts on the capital reserve fund balance,” added Hertzog.

“The Community Services committee recommended to maintain our current cash contribution to the library for 2015 and also pared back three other requests. If the recommendation goes forth, should the other requests be adjusted? Regarding the capital reserve fund balance: To tap into that fund balance without recognizing the issues it creates in upcoming years or the impacts on future councils seems short-sighted.”

Hertzog said he was completely open to more conversation with Gil Sager, the president of the EPL board and Don Sherman, the treasurer of the EPL board to more fully understand their position and planning for the library going forward.

For his part, council member Bob Good said he mostly agreed with Hertzog. He said there were a number of “in-kind” expenditures, such as for electric, that most in the community were likely not aware of.

Good pointed out that he agreed that Ephrata Public Library certainly services plenty of patrons from outside the local area. But he added that he supports all that the library has done and continues to do to help support local children through a variety of creative programs.

“Sure we could put the entire onus on the library if we want to,” said Good. “That’s possible. We don’t’ have to give them anything. And I can also say I agree with Mr. Hertzog that the surrounding communities that benefit from Ephrata must stand up and be counted.”

With regard to the proposed new $5 per capita contribution increase, Good said that amounts to about $23,000 which will in no way cure the library’s fiscal problems.

In other council news, the borough’s electric customers are a step closer to seeing an average 7 percent reduction in electric power costs. Municipal Enterprises Committee chair Tom Reinhold stressed that these rates would be on average, with some classes of customers seeing perhaps a bit less or a bit more than 7 percent but on the whole the average cost reductions would be to the tune of 7 percent.

Reinhold pointed out that this was particularly good news for Ephrata power customers coming on the same day that PPL had announced another rate increase.

(Ed Note: A quote made at the meeting that was included in the original story was incorrect. Funding done by local libraries do not go into a “pot” that is shared. Funds raised by the county library within a local libraries service area are shared among libraries within the county library system.)

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