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Parkland voters will decide if they want to pay for a new library

By Randy Kraft, WFMZ.com Reporter, RKraft@wfmz.com
Published On: Dec 24 2013 03:31:08 AM CST
Updated On: Aug 28 2013 01:05:34 PM CDT
Parkland Library

Looks like voters in Parkland School District will decide if they are willing to pay a higher annual tax for a new Parkland Community Library.

Without taking a position on the merits of  the proposal, on Tuesday night the Parkland School Board voted 7-1 to get a referendum on the ballot of the Nov. 6 municipal election that proposes tripling the library tax.

That tax is the library’s major source of funding. It is collected from residents of North Whitehall, South Whitehall and Upper Macungie townships – the three municipalities in Parkland School District.

“The school district is not increasing the tax,” stressed school board solicitor C. Steven Miller. “The school district has nothing to do with whether this tax gets increased or not. The school district is merely a vehicle that the library needs to use to get this question on the ballot.”

By approving the referendum, Miller explained, the school board was only saying: “We’re going to let the voters decide whether they want to increase this special tax.”

“We are neutral without position on the question,” stressed board member Roberta Marcus, who explained the school district just collects the tax for the library.

The school board’s neutrality on the possible tax increase “was appropriate for their role,” said library vice president Barry Cohen after the meeting. “We were not disappointed and we very much appreciate what they did tonight.”

The board solicitor said the school district is involved only because the library does not have the authority to collect taxes or to submit a tax referendum question. “It has to go through a municipality or a school district. They’ve chosen the school district because it encompasses the three townships.”

If approved by voters in the three townships, the tax increase will triple the amount they pay to the library each year, according to Parkland Community Library officials who attended the meeting but did not address the school board.

They explained a homeowner whose home is worth $100,000 now pays a $10 annual library tax. If the increase is approved, that will jump up to $29.78 a year. Someone with a home worth $200,000 will pay $59.56 rather than the $20 they now pay.

The resolution passed by the board states that the increased library tax will be reduced when the library pays off its loan for its planned new building – no later than July 1, 2035.

School board member Barry Long cast the only no vote, without offering any explanation during the board meeting.

After the meeting, Long said: “I support the board moving forward.”

He added: “Now I’ll let the resolution speak for itself. When people read the resolution, they should understand why I voted no.” He said taxpayers will have to decide if they want to support a $9.5 million project for 20 years.

That resolution passed by the board, including the ballot question and a “plain English” explanation, is online.

The referendum question must be approved by the Lehigh County elections board to be placed on the November ballot.

If approved by voters, the library tax will increase on July 1.

Miller said that tax rate has not changed since it first was approved by voters in 1998.

The rate’s been the same, but the amount of money generated by the tax has increased as more people moved into the school district, explained library board president Karl Siebert.

Siebert said that tax generated about $735,000 for the library last year.

If voters approve that increase, he said the revised tax will generate about $2.1 million a year for the library.

Siebert said about 80 percent of his library’s annual budget comes from that library tax. It gets about 10 percent of the budget from the state and the rest of the money comes from donations, grants and fines.

He said about 56,000 people live in the three townships that the library serves and the library has 21,500 cardholders.

Siebert indicated the marketing strategy to convince residents to vote for the tax increase has not yet been fully worked out, but mentioned it will include yard signs.

He said the library’s a political action committee, funded by donations, will do direct marketing after the ballot question is accepted by the county elections board.

A new library

Miller explained to the school board that the library has outgrown its current building.

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“They want to build a new facility to serve the community of the three townships and the school district. The library is not able to do that given the current tax.”

The increased revenue will be used for the library’s $13-million expansion project. It plans to build a new 30,000-square library on 12 acres opposite Segan’s Bloomin’ Haus along Grange Road in Upper Macungie.

Siebert said the library leases that land from Upper Macungie for one dollar a year.

Library officials hope to break ground for construction next March. “That’s assuming we win the referendum,” said Siebert. He said if they don’t win the referendum in November, construction will be delayed and they will attempt get the question back on the ballot in the May primary. “Of course, our desire is to get it passed in November.”

Siebert said completion of the new library will take 12-14 months.

The current 5,500-square-foot library is along Walbert Avenue next to the township building in South Whitehall. Siebert said the library plans to keep that building open, possibly with reduced hours, after the new library is completed.

History

Parkland Community Library was established in the 1960s and incorporated in 1973 to serve residents of the three townships.

In its early years, the library had to seek annual operating funds from the townships and the school district, explained Miller.

He said in 1998, the library’s operators decided to pursue an alternative funding method, by establishing a special library tax that would be imposed directly on school district residents. Miller said that library also had to ask the school board to put it on the ballot back in ‘98.

Voters approved that tax in a referendum passed during the November 1998 election and it was collected for the first time in July 1999.

The solicitor said the library has been funded by that annual tax ever since 1999.