Community Government

LST Moves to End Legal Fight Involving Hellertown Library

Hellertown library

A two-year battle involving Lower Saucon Township, the Hellertown Area Library and the borough could be closer to ending, thanks to a measure passed by township council Wednesday.

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A two-year battle involving Lower Saucon Township, the Hellertown Area Library and the borough could be closer to ending, thanks to a measure passed by township council Wednesday.

At the Feb. 21 meeting, Councilwoman Victoria Opthof-Cordaro proposed that council authorize its solicitor to “pursue potential settlement with regard to the Hellertown Area Library and related entities with the end goal of terminating the outstanding litigation between Lower Saucon Township and Hellertown Area Library and related entities.”

“The solicitor is further authorized to direct (the law firm) Eckert Seamans to not take any further action with regard to litigation and advise the court that the parties are engaged in potential settlement discussions and ask that all pending matters be held in abeyance,” Opthof-Cordaro’s motion specified. Eckert Seamans has represented the township in its library court challenges, which are pending in federal court and the Northampton County Court of Common Appeals.

Opthof-Cordaro, council president Priscilla deLeon and council vice president Laura Ray voted in favor of the motion, while councilmen Jason Banonis and Tom Carocci opposed it.

In January–also on Opthof-Cordaro’s recommendation–┬ácouncil voted to pay the Hellertown Area Library nearly $100,000 toward what it would have paid for township residents’ use of library services in 2022, after the then-majority on council rejected a new five-year agreement with HAL, which was what began a lengthy dispute involving the library, the township and the borough.

That dispute led to the Office of Commonwealth Libraries removing Lower Saucon Township from HAL’s service area at the end of 2022–at HAL’s request. Lower Saucon Township Council later initiated legal action against OCL in response to the ouster, claiming that the action was illegal because the township was denied an opportunity to challenge the state board’s decision.

On Wednesday, Banonis said there is now a pending effort to categorize the payment as a gift to the library, and criticized the library for allegedly not being transparent with the township.

“Years ago we asked the library to give us usage data; financial information. They wouldn’t give to us. They said they couldn’t give it to us. Why? I don’t know,” he said. “Then they would not give us board representation that was proportionate to Lower Saucon Township residents or the amount of money that it was paying to the library.”

Banonis further criticized the library for turning down a $50,000 donation the township offered it in January 2022, after council decided not to renew its agreement with HAL, as well as for turning down another funding offer that was floated last year.

“We have emails from (Hellertown borough council president) Tom Rieger acknowledging that the library is essentially the same as the borough, and the borough is broke as a dope,” he claimed, accusing the majority on council who support a reconciliation with the library of acting to help “bail them out.”

“I think a lot of the things that were said here were a big mischaracterization of the whole situation of what has happened,” said Ray, who said the township has so far paid Eckert Seamans approximately $200,000 “for going around in circles.”

“To end this we want to re-establish our relationship. We do need library services,” Ray said, adding that “it has been known that there are no other libraries wanting to work with us.”

The tense library discussion took place at the start of Wednesday’s three-and-a-half hour meeting, and begins around the 12 minute mark in the YouTube video of the meeting.

Council’s next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, March 6 at 6:30 p.m. at Lower Saucon Town Hall. Meetings are livestreamed on the YouTube channel, and the new council majority last month instructed township staff to research streaming the meetings on Zoom, to allow for public participation. Agendas are shared on the council page on the township website prior to each meeting.

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About the author

Josh Popichak

Josh Popichak is the owner, publisher and editor of Saucon Source. A Lehigh Valley native, he's covered local news since 2005 and previously worked for Berks-Mont News and AOL/Patch. Contact him at josh@sauconsource.com.

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