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Library wins backing for ballot items

Jacob Tierney
| Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, 11:00 p.m.
Sisters Sarah O'Donnell, 11, right, and Katie, 12, spend a quiet moment reading at the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library between family events Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, in Greensburg.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Sisters Sarah O'Donnell, 11, right, and Katie, 12, spend a quiet moment reading at the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library between family events Tuesday, Aug. 1, 2017, in Greensburg.

Greensburg Hempfield Area Library officials say they've gathered enough signatures to put property tax referendums on November's ballot.

“We should be good to go,” said Brenda White, chairwoman of the library's referendum committee.

Voters in Hempfield, Greensburg, Youngwood, New Stanton, South Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg will be asked whether to enact a 1-mill property tax to support the library.

Municipal leaders in Greensburg, Youngwood and South Greensburg voted to fast-track the referendums in their communities by putting them on the ballot. Governments in the other three municipalities did not, requiring the library to petition voters to get them on the ballot.

Hempfield was the biggest challenge, officials said. Because of the sprawling township's large population — 43,000 — 637 voters were required to sign the petition in order to put the referendum on the ballot.

The tax would raise about $716,000 a year for the library, with about $500,000 of that coming from Hempfield. Without it, the financially struggling library might be forced to close within six years, officials said.

The library has all the signatures it needs, but the committee will continue to gather more until the deadline, White said.

“We are still gathering a few more signatures in Hempfield to ensure, of course, that we don't get taken off the ballot by challenges, that kind of thing,” she said.

Once the petitions are submitted, there is a one-week window in which residents who contend any signatures are ineligible can file a legal challenge through the Westmoreland County Court of Common Pleas, said Beth Lechman, director of the elections bureau.

The committee has more time than members originally thought for gathering signatures. White and other officials believed the petitions had to be submitted by Aug. 1, but the deadline is Sept. 18, according to state law, Lechman said.

Once the petitions have been accepted, the next step will be convincing voters to approve the tax increase, which would cost property owners on average about $22 a year.

The campaign is about to begin in earnest. The library has created a “Vote Yes” committee to advocate on behalf of the tax increase in each of the six communities involved. The next step is identifying likely voters and convincing them the library is worth funding, committee chair Paul Adams said.

There will likely be a relatively small number of voters because 2017 is an off year, Adams said.

“That means it's a little easier to identify who the voters are, and make our case why the library is a public good and a public necessity,” he said.

Opponents say property owners already pay high taxes and shouldn't be saddled with an additional bill.

“That burden is placed solely on the property owners,” Hempfield resident Robert Seymour said. “And it's not the property owners, solely, who are going to use that facility.”

He doesn't support any library tax. But if there is one, he said, it should affect all residents, not just property owners.

He doesn't think voters will support the referendum.

“I think it's a very small segment of society that utilizes (the library),” he said. “It isn't going to fly. It isn't going to pass.”

Adams said he hopes to convince voters that the library is like a fire department, good for the community as a whole, even when it's not being used by every individual.

Voters will decide on Election Day, Nov. 7.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646 or jtierney@tribweb.com.

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