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Fate of Greensburg Hempfield library system soon to be decided by voters

Jacob Tierney
| Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017, 1:18 p.m.
A 'Vote Yes, Save Our Library' sign stands along North Main Street in Greensburg on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. Voters in six municipalities served by the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library will vote Nov. 7 whether to approve a tax increase to directly support the financially struggling library system.
Jason Cato
A 'Vote Yes, Save Our Library' sign stands along North Main Street in Greensburg on Saturday, Oct. 7, 2017. Voters in six municipalities served by the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library will vote Nov. 7 whether to approve a tax increase to directly support the financially struggling library system.

With a month until Election Day, Greensburg Hempfield Area Library is ramping up efforts to convince voters in six communities that a new library tax is worthwhile.

The library's petitions to put the 1-mill property tax on the ballot in Hempfield, New Stanton and Southwest Greensburg were successful. Those communities join Greensburg, South Greensburg and Youngwood, where municipal leaders gave direct approval to hold the referendum.

Now that the referendum has been finalized in all six communities, the library board will take a backseat role, according to board President Jeanne Smith.

“We were involved up until getting on the ballot successfully. That was our job,” she said.

Election regulations prevent the board from directly advocating on behalf of the library tax. Instead, a volunteer Vote Yes Committee is reaching out to voters.

“We're going to outreach to as many likely voters as we can between now and Nov. 7. We're going to continue advertising, both through our social media channels and going door-to-door, making phone calls,” said Vote Yes Committee Chairman Paul Adams.

If the referendum passes in the six communities, the 1-mill property tax would raise about $716,000 a year for the library. This would replace the direct contributions from local municipalities, which total about $81,000 a year.

The library also receives $157,000 a year from the state and $52,500 a year from renting part of its Greensburg building to the state Revenue Department. This income would be unaffected by referendum results.

The library has been running a deficit, dipping into its cash reserves for years, according to former board member and Vote Yes Committee Treasurer Nancy Harris.

“You can only do that so many years, and then you're done,” she said.

The library eliminated Friday hours several years ago. The amount of new materials it acquires for its collection and the number of programs it offers are close to the minimum allowed by law, according to Smith.

If the referendum passes, the library will restore the cut hours, expand its materials and create new programs. If it fails, the library could be closed within six years, according to Smith.

She compared Greensburg Hempfield Area Library's situation to the Jeannette Public Library, which was temporarily closed in 2015 when it ran out of money and was saved last year by a successful referendum to increase library taxes.

“They started (campaigning) when they ran out of money and had to close their doors. We're trying to be proactive,” Smith said.

There's one big difference between Jeannette's campaign and the one for Greensburg Hempfield. Jeannette only had to win over voters in one community.

It is unclear what would happen if the referendum passes in some communities but fails in others.

“You could end up with a mixed system, where some (municipalities) are paying into the system through the levy approved by the referendum and some may revert back to the system where they are contributing directly from their budgets,” Adams said.

With its large area, large population and high property values, Hempfield would contribute the lion's share of the library's budget if the referendum passes — about $500,000. The township government currently pays the library $30,000 a year.

The Vote Yes Committee is trying to convince voters that the library adds value to their communities — even if they don't use it.

“We already have a problem in central Westmoreland County with hemorrhaging populations and decline. You do not want to see great public assets like parks, like schools, like libraries decline. There will be a mass exodus,” Adams said.

The library had 18,484 cardholders at the end of 2016.

The Vote Yes Committee met Saturday afternoon with volunteers and supporters at Panera Bread in Hempfield.

Voters will decide on the tax Nov. 7.

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

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