The Southern Lehigh Public Library Board of Directors voted last week to accept a $50,000 donation from Lower Saucon Township, library officials said Wednesday.
The vote came six months after Lower Saucon Township Council voted 4-1 to donate $50,000 to the Southern Lehigh library, whose board initially appeared reluctant to accept the funds. At the same meeting where they approved the SLPL donation, Lower Saucon councilors rejected a five-year agreement worth nearly half a million dollars with the Hellertown Area Library in favor of a one-time $50,000 donation to that institution; a decision that triggered backlash from library supporters in the borough and township.
In mid-February, the SLPL board released a statement in which it referenced the ongoing dispute involving the library, the borough and the township, and in which it declared “this is not ‘our fight'” and said “we do not want to be involved in this fight.”
In the same statement, the SLPL board said it didn’t intend to “shop” its services to other communities because its service area of Upper Saucon Township, Coopersburg borough and Lower Milford Township “has worked very well for very many years.”
However, the door to expanding that territory to include Lower Saucon has been opened.
In Wednesday’s SLPL board statement, it announced that at their July 19 meeting board committee members “were directed to examine the potential consequences, both positive and negative, of adding Lower Saucon Township to SLPL‘s service area.”
The committees are to report their findings to the full board at its August meeting, it said.
The July 26 statement signed by SLPL board chair Bruce Eames stressed that the donation from Lower Saucon Township “is unconditional, and was made in appreciation of the services provided by Southern Lehigh Public Library to Lower Saucon Township residents over the past 10 years.” Accompanying it was a May 16 letter from Lower Saucon Township Council solicitor Linc Treadwell in which Treadwell said the donation to SLPL’s Helping Hands campaign is unconditional and “made in appreciation.”
“It must be made clear that acceptance of the donation is a separate issue from expanding SLPL‘s service area to include Lower Saucon Township,” the SLPL board said Wednesday. “While expanding SLPL‘s service area may be of benefit, any benefit may be outweighed by the challenges it presents.”
Eames’ letter was also accompanied by a June 30 letter from a Lower Milford Township official to SLPL representative Ryan Fields.
In the letter to Fields, it was related that Lower Milford supervisors Donna Wright, Ellen Koplin and Lowell Linde unanimously agreed at their June 16 meeting “that LȘT‘s addition to the SLPL will be of great benefit to our local community, and their request to join SLPL in 2023 should be not only accepted but welcomed.” Carbon-copied on the letter were Treadwell and interim Lower Saucon Township manager Peter Marshall.
“The (Lower Milford) Board does not understand why the $50,000 donation from LST is currently being held in abeyance and requests (that) the SLPL accept the donation immediately,” the letter continued. “Over the years, the SLPL has brought to (Lower Milford) Township‘s attention its difficulties in funding and the potential for inadequate funding to negatively impact day–to–day operations and community offerings. Refusal to accept this donation is a disloyalty to the SLPL contributing municipal partners, library patrons and local community members.”
The June 30 letter concluded with a “request” to Fields that his “actions not only represent the wishes of the elected officials of Lower Milford Township, but (also) reflect in the fiduciary interest of Township residents by accepting LST into the SLPL.”
In Wednesday’s letter signed by Eames, the SLPL board said it “felt immense pressure” from both Lower Milford and Upper Saucon Township officials to accept Lower Saucon’s donation “or risk cuts to its current funding.” And it indicated that during meetings with various Upper Saucon supervisors, “SLPL was encouraged to accept the donation.”
It also said the SLPL board felt “serious trepidation” about accepting the donation, at least in part due to the Hellertown Area Library dispute involving Lower Saucon Township, and due to the fact that “(Lower Saucon) residents will not benefit from the donation, except to the extent they use SLPL through the Access Pennsylvania program.”
The letter concluded by noting that the process of expanding a library’s service territory in Pennsylvania is “not an easy one” because it requires approvals from both the Office of Commonwealth Libraries and the Governor‘s Advisory Council on Library Development.
“What is clear from the initial information the Board has received to date, is that any expansion will take time and, because this situation is unprecedented, there is no certain timeline,” the Eames letter concluded. “The Board takes its responsibilities seriously and looks forward to reporting back on the outcome of its due diligence process.”
Lower Saucon Township residents continue to have full access to the Hellertown Area Library’s programs and resources, although Hellertown Borough Council recently voted to terminate several longstanding intermunicipal agreements with Lower Saucon.
UPCOMING PUBLIC MEETINGS INVOLVING BOARDS REFERENCED ABOVE:
- The next Hellertown Borough Council meeting will be held online and in-person at 7 p.m. Monday, Aug. 1 at Borough Hall.
- The next Lower Saucon Township Council meeting is scheduled to be held in-person Wednesday, Aug. 17 at 6:30 p.m. at Lower Saucon Town Hall.
- The next regular Upper Saucon Township Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled to be held in-person Monday, Aug. 8 at 6:30 p.m. at the Upper Saucon Township Municipal Building.
- The next regular Lower Milford Board of Supervisors meeting is scheduled to be held Thursday, Aug. 18 at 6:30 p.m. at the township municipal building.
- The next Southern Lehigh Public Library Board of Directors meeting is scheduled to be held Tuesday, Aug. 16 at 6:30 p.m. in the library’s meeting room.
- The next Hellertown Area Library Board of Directors meeting is scheduled to be held online and in-person on Tuesday, Aug. 23 at 6:30 p.m. at the library.