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LST Council – A Farce in 3 Acts – Act 3

At its July 5 meeting, Hellertown Borough (HB) Council voted to sever its ties with Lower Saucon Township relative to the Saucon Valley Partnership, the community pool and the compost center, effective December 31, 2022.  Letters to that effect were sent to LST dated July 19, 2022. (see below)

The 3 unanimous votes came after six months of analysis by the HB Council of the value or lack of same of the collaborations.  This was all a result of the fallout from the disagreements over funding of the Hellertown Area Library (HAL) and the attendant, appallingly arrogant and disrespectful behavior of the Lower Saucon Township (LST) Council.

Frankly, no one can blame the Hellertown council for these actions.

On the agenda for the August 17 LST council meeting are the 3 letters from the Borough and the 2 letters sent in response to them by the outgoing Interim Manager Peter Marshall. (see below)

The first question that pops to mind is:  Since the original letters from the Borough solicitor were directed to Banonis for the Saucon Valley Partnership and to Treadwell for the pool and compost center, why are the letters in response written by an interim manager who is days within leaving his position and has no history in the township whatsoever?  Wouldn’t it be appropriate for Banonis and Treadwell respectively to respond to the letters directed to them or possibly Treadwell could answer all three? Just exactly what standing does Marshall have to write these responses, especially the one regarding the compost center with its rather unsubtle hints of action against Hellertown?  I urge you to read the nonsense Marshall put in that letter regarding the compost center.

Second, why is there no letter in response to the changes at the pool?  Does the Council not care about those changes?  Are they going to tell us that it doesn’t matter because no one uses a public pool anymore?  (just like no one uses a library)

To clear up a question that I have often heard about the compost center, it is true that the center is physically located in Lower Saucon Township.  However, the land on which it sits is owned by the Borough of Hellertown.  And, possibly more to the point, the DEP permit to operate the center is held by Hellertown Borough alone.  Lower Saucon is not eligible to have such a permit because the township permits open burning, making it ineligible.  Hellertown does not permit open burning.  Which makes a rather fine point that if LST residents have no access to the compost center, LST can’t create its own unless it rescinds the open burn ordinance.

As to the pool, for years it has been operating with LST residents able to buy pool passes at the resident rate.  Hellertown keeps track of how many passes are sold at the lower rate and then LST reimburses Hellertown for the difference between the resident and the non-resident costs once a year.  Hellertown has indicated that they will continue to allow LST residents access to the pool, but each LST resident will now have to pay the full non-resident rate either per session or per season.  In effect, LST has now stopped underwriting the cost of the use of the pool by its residents and the full cost will now be borne directly by LST residents.  Will your taxes decrease because the township doesn’t have to pay the difference?  Don’t hold your breath.

As far as the Saucon Valley Partnership is concerned, it was created in 2004 as a Council of Governments by the Borough of Hellertown, Lower Saucon Township and the Saucon Valley School District.  The County of Northampton was added as an associate member in 2009.  An ad hoc committee of Hellertown and Lower Saucon had been meeting for years before the actual COG was created.

According to the webpage on the Lower Saucon Township website, “the Partnership will provide an opportunity for the members to foster communication, regional cooperation and joint action on regional issues and problems.  By working together as a group, the partners can build stronger relationships and pursue strategies that improve the efficiency and effectiveness of municipal services to save tax dollars.”

It has not met since late 2021.

It’s unfortunate that Hellertown Borough has come to this decision because the purpose of the Saucon Valley Partnership is exactly the direction that municipalities should be going.  The 62 municipalities of the Lehigh Valley are a case study in wasted money and effort as there is so much duplicative cost and programming in so many areas that could be conducted in collaboration.  That’s what the Partnership was designed to alleviate and what it seemed to be fairly successful at.  

But then we read this from the minutes of the January 19 Lower Saucon Township council meeting. Following a long and exhausting iteration of what later turned out to be significantly skewed and self-serving information about the history of the Township vis-à-vis the Hellertown Library and the Borough, Council President Banonis said this: “They want to take your money and malign this Council and insert politics into yet another fundamental, such as reading and learning. He also hopes that some now recognize and appreciate that treating Lower Saucon like an ATM is done, especially when we’re treated so underhandedly at every turn.”

Do those sound like the words of someone looking to “foster communication” and “build stronger relationships”?  I don’t think so.  It was at the next Borough council meeting that their council people voted to review all of the borough’s relationships with LST.  Their actions on July 5 are the result of that review.

What Is a Community?

At the heart of all the fracture and division that’s been happening in the Saucon Valley since January 2022 is the question of what is a community?  Is a community simply defined by its legal borders?  Is Lower Saucon Township a different community from Hellertown Borough?  Are there walls at the borders?  Do I become a different person when I drive to Hellertown to shop at the Giant? Do we breathe different air?

What about the children who go to the same school district?  Are they perceived as representing two entirely different communities?  Should the child who resides in one community have different resources available than the one who resides in the other community?  Should they play on different teams or in different bands? What responsibility do we as adults and voters have to provide the best possible environment for the education of the next generations collaboratively?  What responsibility do we have to treat each other as neighbors? 

What we’ve witnessed in the last 9 months or so is the type of outcome expected of a dysfunctional family. The leadership of LST – with the obvious exception of Mrs. deLeon – has behaved like spoiled brats, unwilling to engage in substantive discussions that acknowledged their commitments to the shared resource that is the Hellertown Library.  Instead, they threw a fit and, when the Borough and the Library refused to cave to their demands, they stomped off in a pout, abandoning all of their responsibilities but still demanding all the services.  It’s a little like your 7-year-old saying “I won’t make my bed but you still have to feed me dinner.”

Like most families faced with this level of dysfunctionality, the Borough of Hellertown and HAL have reacted the way most psychologists will tell you is rational.  They have taken steps to protect themselves from the dysfunctional family member.  HAL refused LST’s insultingly reduced $50K “donation” because LST would not negotiate an agreement in good faith that would have outlined their responsibilities as a library partner.  Hellertown Borough has withdrawn from these other three collaborations as protection against being stiffed like the library was stiffed.  And let’s point out – Hellertown Borough was also stiffed because they ended up ponying up a $75,000 additional donation from their American Rescue Plan monies to help the library cover its lost revenue.  What confidence can they have in any partnership with LST based on what they just saw happen?

If at any point in the last 9 months there had been anything even remotely resembling a rational explanation for why LST should abandon HAL and, even more inexplicably, go strong-arming Southern Lehigh Public Library (SLPL) for affiliation, some of this might make sense to those who have watched this insanity.  But there hasn’t been.  There has been precious little communication.  Some of the communication has been demonstrably false.  There has been a steadfast refusal to put discussion of the library situation on the council agenda.  There have apparently been communications and negotiations behind the scenes that have not been shared with the public.  Imagine how surprising it was to attend a Southern Lehigh Public Library board meeting on August 16 and hear that LST had offered a site for a satellite library within the township in its discussions with SLPL.  What???

It is embarrassing to be a resident of LST these days.  Not only has this council disrupted the library services of its own residents and now their cost of using the pool and their access to the compost center, but they have similarly caused upheaval for HAL, the Borough of Hellertown and the leaders of SLPL who have explicitly stated, more than once, that they are not interested in entertaining a larger service area.  For those outside the township who know what’s going on, we are a laughingstock.  

And through it all runs an ugly stream of class division.  How else to explain why the township would want to redirect its library services to a library that is within a 3-mile radius of only about 20% of the township and make the other 80% of the township travel a greater distance at greater inconvenience?  I’ll bet if you research the median income for the eastern part of LST vs. the southwestern part, you’ll find a considerable difference. Or not want to continue collaboration with a borough – perhaps because they have a lower median income?  Or insultingly claim that the borough is using the township as “an ATM?”  

That pretty much tells you where their focus is.

It’s not on community.

As a Lower Saucon Township resident, is that what you want your Council members to be doing on your behalf? Is that who we are?

SVP – Page 1
SVP – Page 2
Yard Waste Recycling Center – page 1

Yard Waste Recycling Center – page 2

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