Government Opinion

Letter: LST Council Should Listen to Residents, Offer Library Services Deal to HAL

Zoning Lower Saucon Township Councilman

Lower Saucon Township resident Dave Willard says township council should offer the same deal it’s proposing to Southern Lehigh Public Library officials to the Hellertown Area Library. The township was part of the HAL’s service area until the beginning of this year, and currently has no home library.

Est. Read Time: 3 mins
Note: The following letter to Lower Saucon Township Council was shared with Saucon Source by its author–a former township council member–for the purpose of publication. Signed letters about topics of local, general interest may be emailed to jo**@sa**********.com for consideration. Read more about the meeting here.

Dear Members of the Lower Saucon Council,

Please allow me to communicate some additional thoughts and comments after (Tuesday) night’s Special Council Meeting to discuss Library Services.
1. I appreciated Council President Banonis having each council member state a position and his outlining a proposal to SLPL (Southern Lehigh Public Library) for “Full Library Services” before taking public comments last night. It is convoluted to receive public comment before, rather than after, the formal agenda items are discussed. It is much more reasonable for the public to comment on agenda items after hearing basic information and important points about the item as discussed by council.
2. When Mr. Banonis declined to let me speak for a second time, I yielded to the chair according to the established protocol. I wish I had stated that my additional comment was a point of information or clarification  I wanted to address about comments made previously by council members and residents about “transparency” of financial and usage information from HAL (Hellertown Area Library). The 2021 Annual Report, 2021 Accountant’s Report and Form 990 for 2019, 2020 and 2021, as well as usage statistics broken down by Hellertown and LST (Lower Saucon Township) residents, are all available on the HAL website.
I found no comparable information on the SLPL website. I expect that it’s available on request, but I didn’t make an inquiry. I did find the SLPL 2020 Form 990 on the IRS website. I suggest that you examine it carefully.
3. My sense was that a counterproposal with significant financial benefits to SLPL was a foregone conclusion, regardless of comments made by numerous residents who were present. I will reiterate my comment that the proposal should be offered to SLPL and HAL simultaneously, similar to a Request for Proposal (RFP) scenario. The result is the same, whether we join SLPL or rejoin HAL with board membership and Access PA privileges. The difference is that HAL has a geographic advantage and community presence for LST residents that can never be matched by SLPL.
4. The proposal of a $250,000 “signing bonus” for SLPL using American Rescue Plan funds is disconcerting for several reasons:
-To say that taxpayer money is not being used is inaccurate. Fifty-one percent of federal revenue comes from individual taxpayers, including the residents of Lower Saucon Township.
-The one-time upfront payment equals $25,000 per year over a 10-year period. Added to the $75,000 a year to SLPL paid by LST residents/taxpayers, this amounts to an average of $100,000 a year to SLPL, not substantially different than LST’s annual payments to HAL in past years.
-The $250,000 bonus is so compelling that no publicly-funded nonprofit, library or otherwise, could easily turn it down. LST Council is trying to force the hand of SLPL to accept a partner they may not want due to pressures from their other funders. Offer that deal to HAL and I’ll bet you can come to an agreement in record time, to the satisfaction and benefit of many residents. Pastor Phil Spohn of Christ Lutheran Church, a prominent community leader, offered to be a mediator between the parties. You should seriously consider his offer.
5. I agree with the protocols the LST Council has established by resolution to have civil and orderly conduct at council meetings and to limit public comments by individuals to three minutes. I have also seen the chair extend additional time to residents to “wrap up” or even to continue well beyond three minutes if a presentation is organized, succinct and compelling.
I completely disagree with the protocol that two or more council members must “approve” an item to be placed on the agenda. It is undemocratic. When you have a 4-1 majority/minority split, it is essentially a “gag order” on the minority. Any one of you, as an elected official, should be able to place an item that you feel is of concern to residents on the agenda for any meeting. I think you’re all too smart to add frivolous items to an agenda. That would not be tolerated more than once. I also know that the protocol was what managed to keep library service from becoming an agenda item for meeting after meeting for the last 16 months. This is plain wrong and a disservice to our community.
I respect each of your roles as a public servant. Thank you for letting me and others express our concerns at last night’s meeting and through other communication channels such as this email. I hope you’ll listen to the voices of those who care about our community and the importance of the Hellertown Area Library in it.
Dave Willard
Lower Saucon Township


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