As a taxpayer of Hellertown Borough living within a stone’s throw of Hellertown Area Library (HAL), I have watched with interest the 2022 financial morass that has developed between Hellertown, Lower Saucon and HAL.
To summarize prior events, Lower Saucon raised objections to delay executing the renewal of Lower Saucon’s library services contract with HAL and Hellertown.
Lower Saucon extended the original three-party contract through Jan. 31, 2022, and made a January payment for that month’s obligations. When that contract extension expired, Hellertown was forced to be the sole contractual partner of HAL and has shouldered all costs of library services in good faith, on the representation that the three party contract would be renegotiated once Lower Saucon received whatever documentation it requested. Lower Saucon has not answered HAL’s prior proposals and requests, and I believe has failed to negotiate in good faith for more than four months. Lower Saucon’s objections remain unproven.
That brings us to recent events. At the April 18 Borough Council meeting, the public was advised that a mediation session between Hellertown, Lower Saucon and HAL occurred April 13. To my knowledge, that was the first publicly acknowledged dialogue between the parties since the conflict arose. Based upon the account of that meeting provided by Mayor David Heintzelman, it seems clear that Lower Saucon Township does not wish to continue the three-way partnership it formerly had with HAL and Hellertown, suggesting instead that HAL create a ‘regional’ library system.
Lower Saucon confirmed that position at the township council meeting on April 20, and indicated it was waiting for further proposals from HAL.
What Lower Saucon didn’t say at the meeting on April 13, or at the township council meeting on April 20, was that a meeting had occurred March 29 between Southern Lehigh Public Library, Upper Saucon and Lower Saucon representatives.
So Lower Saucon’s supposed interest in regionalized library services with HAL is another
diversionary delaying tactic. In actuality, HAL is already “regionalized,” being a part of a five-member district approved by the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, and its budgetary and inter-library needs are coordinated through the district library in conjunction with the other member libraries in the district.
Where does that leave Hellertown and HAL? It is now abundantly clear that the original three-party contract between HAL, Hellertown and Lower Saucon has ended, and hopes of its resurrection have been extinguished. The cost of services to Lower Saucon residents, for the period after Jan. 31, have not been and will not be reimbursed by Lower Saucon, despite township council’s earlier statements that a retroactive contract could be possible if only certain documents would be produced.
Although its actions were guided by good faith, Borough Council must now backpedal to recover the funds spent on library services for Lower Saucon residents. Legally, Borough Council can only use the taxes it collects and monies paid to the borough for purposes beneficial to the borough. Borough funds can only be spent to provide benefits to borough residents. Borough Council’s duties and obligations do not extend to providing services to nonresidents of the borough.
Borough Council has a right to demand an audit by HAL of expenditures on nonresident services from Feb. 1 to date, and reimbursement of those funds from HAL.
HAL must move forward and plan a future without Lower Saucon. It is time to stop all ‘free’ library services to Lower Saucon residents, that are being funded by Hellertown.
At least all ambiguities have been clarified, and responsibility for the cessation of library services has been firmly laid on the shoulders of Lower Saucon Council. Vote them out.
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