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  • Brad Chambers

Opinion: HAL - Hellertown Council & deLeon Want a Campaign Issue, Not a Solution

This opinion piece was submitted by a resident of the community.

reader-opinion-graphic

Is the Hellertown Area Library (HAL) funding being used by Lower Saucon Township council member Priscilla DeLeon and the Hellertown Borough Council as a campaign wedge issue, or do they actually want a solution?


In December 2021, Lower Saucon Township was presented with HAL's budget and asked to contribute more than $100,000 toward the library. This would compose approximately 2/3 of the overall funding, while Hellertown would contribute only 1/3. LST has asked for a number of clarifications, such as specific oversight measures and proportional HAL board seats, and expressed concerns about being kept in the dark during the process. [Readers can review the meeting minutes being referenced, by clicking here]. Council ultimately passed a motion to table the agreement, 5-0. And that's where things seemingly fell apart.


In light of Hellertown’s budget struggles and combined with the fact that LST taxpayers would be essentially 66% “owners” it seemed a reasonable ask for LST to make. In fact, it is our elected representative’s core duty to determine if taxpayer money is being well spent.


Then in 2022, while both municipalities failed to find agreement, Lower Saucon Township offered a $50,000 donation to HAL without any conditions. Priscilla DeLeon voted against the offer, and then after receiving the offer, HAL proceeded to reject the offer. The manner in which it was rejected was most revealing, as if it were a sacred obligation for LST taxpayers to unquestioningly continue to funnel dollars into a service in which they would have no say or visibility into. It was framed as an insult to even ask for a measure of transparency.


In September of this year, as reported here, LST came back to the table with a new offer to fund HAL with $125,000 per year over two years - an amount even higher on a per year basis than originally requested - as part of a larger package which would include oversight and solutions to some of Hellertown’s other financial woes (see Saucon Voice report here for details). Again DeLeon voted against this new offer, and Hellertown Borough again rejected it.


Interestingly, DeLeon, a self-proclaimed champion of “saving” the library, in 2013 voted against joining the Hellertown library (at the time LST was part of the Bethlehem Library). Again in 2021 she voted with Council 5-0 to table the vote on the agreement with HAL. Then yet again in 2022, she voted ‘no’ when the Township authorized a $50,000 payment to HAL. Add in her recent 2023 ‘no’ vote to HAL funding, and it seems clear she simply does not want the library to be viable.


Yet time and time again, both DeLeon and Hellertown council say they want the funding. DeLeon, in particular, has made it central to her campaign.


Why won’t they take YES for an answer? One could be forgiven for wondering if they want an actual solution, or want an issue to prolong through the next election.


After nearly two years, aside from LST’s offers, no other solutions to ensure HAL’s continued operation have been proposed. They just want LST’s money, but want the taxpayers to stop inconveniently asking for transparency.


Residents get it. Consider the comments of one Hellertown resident who spoke at the Hellertown Borough Council meeting: “The library’s money is getting pretty thin. In other words, if we don’t do anything, the library is going to close its doors – sooner, rather than later. If the library closes its doors, we are a municipality without a home library, which cuts off all the [PA] Access [eligibility for Hellertown residents].”


She outlined three ways the library could continue operation:


Cut back expenses. “This is the obvious first step” she said, but what is being asked of HAL is to find a way to function, at the same level that residents are accustomed to, with half the amount of revenue to pay for it all. Hellertown lacks sufficient funds to do that.


Increase revenue streams. “Which means that Hellertown is going to have to step up, and that’s something you should be talking about in your budget workshops,” she suggested. “If the library’s budget continues to be $225,000 a year, and they only have $100,000 worth of income, that extra $125,000 must come from somewhere. Either [Hellertown Borough], or you find a new partner. such as the school district, or you find a corporate sponsor.”


Finally, she suggested that the “last option” in her opinion, “could be to do what Lower Saucon is suggesting – and merge with someone else in our district.”


That citizen grasps what DeLeon and HB council can not or will not.


Hellertown Borough has offered no alternate plans, rejects a viable offer not once but twice, and then calls Lower Saucon’s offer a “political stunt.” It’s hard not to conclude that it’s Hellertown Council and DeLeon that are just playing politics.


Publication of this opinion piece should not be construed as an endorsement by Saucon Voice of the views expressed. We encourage all readers to consider multiple sources and perspectives when forming their own opinions. Anyone is welcomed to submit content for publication. Visit our Contact page to submit something.


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