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An Open Letter to the Southern Lehigh Public Library Board of Directors

Dear Friends and Neighbors on the Southern Lehigh Public Library Board:

I’d like to address you not only on behalf of myself as the publisher of “Saucon Shenanigans” and my many readers but I’d also like to be so bold as to represent the hundreds of Lower Saucon Township residents who are opposed to the agreement that was proposed by our solicitor in his letter of 6 April 2023 to your solicitor.  I can confidently say that there are hundreds of LST residents opposed to the agreement because there are at least 670 residents who have purchased Hellertown Area Library cards despite their restricted services and there have been countless more who have addressed the LST Council in meetings held over the last 16 months.  I know that you are also in receipt of many emails from LST residents expressing the same concerns.

We are well aware that the SLPL Board neither sought nor desired this partnership with Lower Saucon Township.  We know that because we have often attended your meetings where this has been on the agenda and we have carefully read all of the communications and press releases that you have created.  We know this is a concern that has consumed inordinate amounts of your meeting time and energy for a subject you have no interest in.  For the part that the LST Council played in that, we sincerely apologize. Sadly, they are currently out of our control.

We are also aware that the LST Council is pressuring you to make a quick decision on this proposed agreement despite the fact that they have dragged their feet on resolving the issue with either library for 16 months.  We believe that is unfair to you.  We also believe that you have been incorrectly informed about a variety of issues that might affect your decision to partner with LST.  Rather than reiterate that long and tedious list, I would ask you to read my “Saucon Shenanigans” blog dated 3 April 23 which you can find here.  You will find all of those issues covered in detail.    I realized as I watched your stunned reactions last summer when you were kind enough to allow me to address you regarding how the LST Council operates, that you had no idea how dysfunctional they are.  I’m assuming you have both verified that and followed up on other misinformation that has been presented to you.

We are also aware that some of your own funding municipalities are pressuring you to accept this agreement.  While we have been led to believe that they believe this union will save them money, I would suggest that you explain to them again what your diligent work on the cost of merger revealed it would truly cost.

As a finance person, I can cover at least a few points.  The information you provided for your September board meeting indicated that you are currently receiving funding at a per capita rate of $11.99 from your current partners.  The rate that LST refused from HAL was $9.66/resident.  It seems a bit peculiar that LST would deliberately seek out a higher per capita cost.  But more than that, their current proposal of $75,000/year for 11,000+ residents comes out to less than $6.82 per person.  Why would a dramatic decrease in revenue of $5.17 per resident be attractive to SLPL? Or your funding partners?  Based on the current per capita rate for your current funders, LST’s contribution should be in excess of $131,000/year.  They’re about $56,000 short.

Then of course there’s the proposed enticement of a one-time payment of $250,000.  There are other words for what that seems to be but I’ll pass on that. Setting aside whether that would even meet the requirements for the use of American Rescue Plan funds, a quarter million dollars divided over the 10-year proposed term of the agreement only adds an additional $25,000 per year to your revenue.  LST is still $31,000 per year short.

None of this includes any of the significant capital expenditures that would be necessary to provide the space to service an additional 11,000 residents.  Nor does it include the increased operating costs of having to hire additional staff based on state staffing requirements.  All of that would put SLPL into a further hole. What kind of strange math do your funding partners use to determine that this is a plus for SLPL or that it would reduce the demand on them for continuing support, at least at the current level?

Another rather obvious deficiency in the LST proposal is that there is no provision for an inflation factor.  That was one of the deficiencies of the previous agreement with HAL. That agreement had no specific provision for an increase in per capita rates.  It‘s not surprising that HAL asked for a slightly higher rate when the agreement came up for renewal and yet LST balked at that. It is simply naïve given today’s economic conditions to assume that what $75,000 will buy in 2024 is the same as what it will buy in 2033.  As prudent stewards of SLPL’s money, I would expect that you should at least demand an escalator formula for future years.  Of course, it’s not surprising that LST didn’t offer that.

To me, the economics of this alone would seem sufficient to turn down the agreement.  But there are more than a few other concerns.

We have repeatedly, ever since this disaster was laid on us in January 2022, requested details of why our Council refused the HAL proposal.  We have been given vague and fuzzy comments about “financial concerns” although HAL has accountant-reviewed financial statements and all of their required financial reporting available on line.  It would not surprise me that our council and/or solicitor might not understand that a 501(c)(3) doesn’t need to file its annual tax return until May 15 of the following year which means that the most recent filings are the ones available on line.  We have also requested copies of emails and other communications that show that HAL is not a good “partner” in their words.  But nothing has been forthcoming.  In other words, we have no idea why they took this action in January 2022 or why they haven’t fixed it since.  Is this the kind of partner you want?

Or perhaps you should look at the list of litigations that our township is now unfortunately involved in.  This has not been the history of LST prior to this council, but by my count there are no fewer than four active lawsuits involving the township.  In fact, when the Council first announced their cockamamie idea not to sign a new agreement with HAL back in January 2022, their second resolution immediately defaulted to authorizing the Solicitor to file suit if HAL didn’t respond in a way that suited them.  Is this the kind of partner you want to be saddled with?

I might also point out that another concern might be the complexity of a cross-county or cross-regional partnership.  From our research, we have learned that this does not appear to be something the state has had much experience with.  Have you considered how much additional administrative time and legal expense this might add to your budget?  Even if it didn’t involve litigation, the creation of new partnership formats and approval by OCL could have significant cost attached. So far, the LST Council has sunk more than $108,000 of our tax dollars into legal fees in this bizarre quest.  How would those kinds of fees help SLPL’s budget or those of your funding partners?

One final point, and it is probably the most important one of all, is that as stewards of the SLPL you understand, as do we, that there is much more to a library than just a place to go to borrow books.  In spite of the ignorant comment by our solicitor that no one goes to libraries anymore, we all know that is not true.  Thousands of residents in all of our communities use libraries not only as book repositories, but also as vital community centers, places where our children can safely read and study, where our preschoolers can participate in early learning programs, our senior citizens can find interaction with others, our less fortunate citizens can access technology resources such as computers and internet connections, and dozens of other programs for people of every size and interest.  It’s a safe, welcoming space.

In Lower Saucon Township, HAL is within walking distance for many of our families and certainly all of our students who need a place to go after school.  The geography of LST would not allow our students to use SLPL in the same way.  I’m certain you’ve seen this map, but in case you haven’t, look at the lopsided placement of SLPL vis-á-vis the totality of LST.  If SLPL accepts this agreement, it will almost certainly either doom HAL or significantly reduce its ability to serve as the robust community resource that it has in the past.  You will have been responsible for the loss of another vital library in these dangerous times of book banning and attacks on access to education.  I cannot believe that any of you would want to be a party to that.

I urge you to consider all of these points before you rush to judgment about this proposed agreement with LST.  And while our solicitor would have you believe that this should not be “politicized,” let’s be honest and accept that whatever triggered this issue back in January 2022 was as much a political decision as anything else, especially since we’ve been given no other viable explanations.  And let’s also recognize that there is an election coming up in November 2023, the results of which may far more accurately reflect the needs and desires of LST citizens than this agreement does.  If you sign on to this now and the complexion of the LST Council changes, you will then be saddled with an unwilling and, I dare say, angry partner for the next decade.  

Please give all of this your considered thought and, hopefully, decide to reject out of hand this highly infelicitous proposal.

Thank you.

Andrea Wittchen

Saucon Shenanigans

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