Council Debates Proposed Library Cuts

By on November 25, 2015
It was a packed room for the Ephrata Borough Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday night.

It was a packed room for the Ephrata Borough Budget and Finance Committee meeting Monday night.

Library Cuts?

While the proposed 2016 Ephrata Borough municipal budget does not call for a tax increase, the news may not be as good for the Ephrata Public Library.

The question is, will that change?

Details of the proposed budget revealed that borough funding for the library in 2016 would be $22,000 less than this year, reverting back to where funding was in 2014. News of this reduction began to flood social media over the weekend and even led to an online petition aimed at getting borough council to reconsider this change.

Monday night’s meeting of Council’s Budget and Finance Committee filled the side meeting room to capacity, with a veritable who’s who of community leaders, council members and concerned citizens.

The library’s executive director, Penny Talbert, was on hand to present her case for the borough supporting the library at a level of $5 per capita. She explained the importance of local, county and state funding, as well as the challenges of trying to raise their own funding beyond that.

According to Talbert, while the other municipalities within the library’s coverage area are not paying the requested $5 per capita, their funding is remaining level from 2015 to 2016. The library receives such funding from Ephrata Township, Clay Township and Akron Borough, but each are paying less than $4 per capita.

“The mission of the library (is to be) a virtual and physical community entity and we do a pretty good job at that,” said Talbert. “We act as an agent for free library services to everyone in the community and cannot charge anyone. We consider the borough as our partner.”

Talbert detailed the challenges of funding library efforts and the creative means of meeting those needs the local library has gone to, from adding a passport photo service, a US postal service station and other programs. In 2016, Talbert said the passport office would become the only such in the country to be open seven days a week.

The passport office alone generates $200,000 per year in revenue for the library. Coming in 2016, the library will also offer a DMV service center at the library so that residents can take care of drivers license and tag issues at the library. Adding a notary for the DMV service center will not require additional staffing but will be covered through training of existing staff.

“Ephrata borough represents 27.9 percent of our circulation,” stated Talbert. “When we talk about those coming to the library, 180,296 items are circulated to borough residents. That’s pretty impressive.”

Regarding funding, Talbert said that the library raises over 62 percent itself. It gets 1 percent from the county, or $10,000.

“We are not expecting the borough to raise our funding,” Talbert pointed out. “We are only asking for the minimum state level to contribution to meet our minimum standards for hours, collections etc.”

The room was packed to capacity with a number of well-known local faces including council members Tim Barr, Anthony Kilkuskie and Dale Hertzog, Budget and Finance Committee members Vic Richard, Susan Rowe and Bob Good, borough manager Bob Thompson, police chief William Harvey, Chamber executive director Andrea Glass, Rec executive director Jim Summers, former council member George DiIlio, and a number of local residents.

Rebecca Gallagher, owner of the Historic Smithton Inn, spoke in support of upping library funding. She shared the results of an online petition that was started six days ago. The petition was circulated online via email and social media. To date, 136 individuals have signed the petition, 74 of them stating they live in the Borough of Ephrata.

“I am grateful that the Borough of Ephrata has demonstrated leadership in library funding up to now, and my hope is that you will continue to do so,” said Gallagher. “I realize that the way in which the state calculates your contribution does not take into account in-kind benefits that the library receives. My hope is that through your vote, you demonstrate that the value of the investment the borough makes in the library… the benefits our community derives from the library’s existence in our community, far outweighs the amount any of the municipalities contribute, whether it’s calculated at $3.50 per capita or $20 per capita.”

In addition to the annual cash contributions from the borough, the library receives various in-kind contributions which include such things as electric, snow removal etc. The borough owns the building and leases it to the library.

Borough Director of Administration and Finance Gail Bare, on hand for Monday’s meeting, explained that funding would come from the capital reserve fund, which is funded through grants or the electric reserve fund. According to Bare, increasing library funding would not affect taxes but could affect electric rates at some point.

Council member Kilkuskie honed in on this point.

“If you approved all the request from non-profits, we’d be drawing that down by $91,650 total if we approve it all. It’s not very much. Just the library alone adding $22,000 per year, it would take 12 years to exhaust that. So it seems to me the extra $22,000 is peanuts relative even year to year to year, if there’s a healthy fund balance to cover that. It’s there.”

President of the Friends of Ephrata Library Jill Shober Hilt also urged committee members to reconsider funding levels.

“The library is the heart of Ephrata,” said Shober Hilt. “Ephrata would be lost and a lot of people would be lost without it. As far as I am concerned, my money in town should go to that library. I taught in the school district for 32 years and was thankful to have that library for students to go to. I can’t put a price on that for teachers to know (that). It’s priceless.”

It appears committee members are getting the message.

“We are all taxpayers and doing this for the betterment of the borough,” said Richard. “In the big picture, we are looking for the best of everyone. I certainly wish we could have had a different response from the other municipalities, but that’s disappointing. Seventy percent of those serviced by the library are not from the borough of Ephrata but we give 70 percent of the funding, so it’s really an imbalance.”

While committee chair Richard remained steadfast in his opposition to increasing funding to the requested $5 per capita, he did remind the library of his long-standing support over the years. In supporting an increase in funding in 2015, he saw that increase as a one-time event, not something to be revisited year-after-year. However, in the end, he agreed with proposals suggested but fellow committee member Susan Rowe, including that the item be brought to the working session of council for discussion among the full group.

Rowe suggested that the Highway Committee reconsider spending $15,000 on sidewalks along the Route 272 side of the library and instead add those funds to the borough’s contribution to the library. In addition, she suggested that the borough add another $4,000 which had been contributed each of the past several years for the library to purchase computers. Even though the library now has their new computers, Rowe suggested making this amount a more permanent addition to the annual contribution, increasing the total borough contribution by $19,000. She said she may be able to find additional ways to increase funding.

Of the three committee members, Bob Good was the most outspoken in favor of increasing the funding levels. He said that with in-kind contributions included, it comes to $13.50 per capita. Broken down to a per day cost, it amounts to a nickel per person per day.

“We stood up for what we saw as worthwhile, with no negative feedback,” said Good. “Everyone I’ve talked to felt that this support was reasonable. They do not want to see services reduced and they do not want to see us lose this jewel in our community. This library serves the entire community. Fifteen hundred people per day. We are the elected representatives. We need to do as much good for as many people as we can. We are here for just such a time as this. I stand for $5 per capita.”

The matter will now move to discussion by the full council at the working session on Monday, Dec. 7 at 7 p.m. in borough hall. This is a public meeting at which concerned residents will be again be heard.

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