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  • Peter Herzer

Opinion: Taming the Hydra: HAL

This opinion piece was submitted by a resident of Lower Saucon Township.

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If you drive around Lower Saucon Township (LST) and Hellertown, you will doubtless see a variety of signs. The messages vary but all are heads of the same progressive hydra. Among these signs are the nice red one which announces that every resident should “fully fund the Hellertown Area Library.” As reinforcement, the message is often hammered home in crude and infantile terms in local blogs and ‘performative’ disruptions to LST council meetings. None of the council proposals, despite their merit, satisfies the opposition, and so everything that does not please is presented as a crime against humanity and all that is good. For the most part there is no valid counter argument, just descriptions of fictitious emergencies and name calling.


How did the situation with the Hellertown Area Library (HAL) get to this point, and how has Lower Saucon Township responded? HAL demanded that Lower Saucon Township (LST) renew its financial partnership for a five-year period. In this arrangement, the yearly rate of contributions from Lower Saucon Township would be progressive and on a per capita basis. The contributions HAL expected of LST were left undefined from the second to the fifth year.


While the increase of a few dollars that could be expected from year to the next does not sound like anything concerning, it can cause costs to balloon. For example:

  • If the 2022 per capita rate for LST residents was $9.50 (based on 2020 census of 11,500 residents), the total was $110,000.

  • If the 2023 per capita rate for LST residents goes to $11.00, the total will be $126,000.

In the spirit of good neighborliness, LST has helped HAL over nearly the last decade with major library projects that were not part of the partnership agreement. Lower Saucon contributed two payments of 81,973.51 in 2014 and 2015 for a total of $163, 947.02 for interior renovations and an IT upgrade. LST contributed $12,769 to build a new parking lot and covered the salaries of the LS public works employees for their labor on this parking lot. LST gave $5,000 in 2018 for a capital plan contribution for a total of $181, 973.51. LST also did the “leg work” and was the sponsoring municipality for HAL to a get a state grant for $117,000. HAL used this grant and money left over from the $181,973, 51 to replace the roof on the library.


In each case, LST stepped up to support projects that Hellertown could not afford to underwrite and which were well beyond the scope of LST’s financial commitment to the library. And until HAL decided to play hardball, LST council would doubtless have been willing to budget additional funding to help with contingencies that would doubtless arise in the coming five years.


For all this, Lower Saucon Township has no representation on HAL’s board.


In a nutshell, HAL wanted LST to pay into their coffers over a five-year period while being permitted to raise the dollar amounts of the yearly contributions unilaterally and without accountability. And in addition to having no legal defense against gouging, LST would have no input whatsoever into HAL’s affairs.


Translated, who thinks it is wise or prudent to agree to pay unlimited funds to support a library without having any say in its governance, acquisitions, or projects? Just a look at the most recent pronouncement from the American Library Association (ALA) that libraries “should be a place of socialist activity” and battles nationwide between domestic terrorists, er, parents and school boards regarding library materials being purchased for student consumption.


The developments between Lower Saucon and HAL have resulted in divorce, with HAL denying service to LST residents. LST is a strong supporter of education and libraries and has stepped up by offering to reimburse $40 for families and $20 for individuals for memberships to ANY library, including HAL. LST based its reimbursements on information from the Office of Commonwealth Libraries, which disclosed that the average rate statewide was $30 per family. HAL’s response to LST’s offer of financial support to residents was to price their memberships higher at $50 per family and $30 for individuals. This pricing discourages LST residents from using the library, which is the exact opposite of their supposed stated goal central to their argument why LST should fund the library. Combined with Hellertown’s withdrawal of access to the swimming pool and the recycling center, there is no other conclusion than that all of this is punitive.


LST remains committed to the availability of the best educational resources for its residents. This commitment is already evident in the willingness to underwrite library memberships, but it does not stop there. LST council actively explores all options as it develops a vision for new and better library services for its residents. This exploration includes the creation of Lower Saucon’s own digital library – one which can be brought into each home via the internet -- and a cooperative among local libraries to build a regional resource.


Ironically, despite having been banned from HAL, LST has been able to furnish library services for any resident who wants access -- and at a savings. Since it is paying only for users and not for all residents, the township spent around $57,000 last year and around $10,000 this year to assure that its residents have the services they need. Compared to the projected minimum of $105,000 per year to remain a partner (at least for the first year, then it potentially skyrockets), LST council is saving significant amounts of taxpayer money.


And at the very core of the matter is that the council is doing exactly what Lower Saucon residents elected them to do – protect and advance the best interests of everyone who lives in the township.


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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