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Threat to tax alarms Apollo library

| Monday, Feb. 11, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
Eric Felack, Valley News Dispatch
Patrons use the Apollo Memorial Library on North Pennsylvania Avenue in Apollo on February 8, 2013. Eric Felack | Valley News Dispatch

The loss of dedicated tax funding from North Apollo would be “devastating” for the Apollo Memorial Library, the library's board president says.

North Apollo Council is discussing a referendum that would ask voters if they want to rescind the 0.75-mill tax voters approved in 2001 and again in 2002.

“We're very concerned about this development, which would be devastating for the library as well as the North Apollo community,” library board President Paula Mahar said. “When the referendum was passed, it gave library funding a much-needed solid foundation.”

The library tax is included in the borough's 11.59-mill property tax.

The same tax is collected in Apollo, where the library is located.

The median assessed value of a home in North Apollo is $24,500, according to Armstrong County. For a home at that value, the library tax accounts for about $18 of the borough's $284 annual property tax bill.

In 2012, the tax generated $13,334 in North Apollo, and $11,064 in Apollo, according to library Treasurer Judy Turner.

The library has a $73,500 budget for the year. It gets about half of its funding from state and municipal sources; the other half from library fees, fundraising, grants and donations, Turner said.

North Apollo Council President Gene Burns said council wants to stop using part of the real estate tax to help fund the library.

“We just think we could use the tax dollars for the town better,” he said.

Burns said council will discuss the issue at its next meeting on March 4.

“We're still not absolutely positive what we're going to do,” Burns said.

The library had 1,431 registered patrons at the end of 2012 — an increase of about 200, or 16 percent, from 2011. It was not known how many came from North Apollo.

If the tax is rescinded, Burns said North Apollo would make a donation. He could not say how much that would be.

Before the tax was enacted, North Apollo gave the library $350 per quarter, or $1,400 per year; Apollo gave $415 per month, or nearly $5,000 per year.

Because the tax was enacted by referendum, a referendum would be needed to remove it.

Burns said a referendum could not be ready for the primary ballot, but could be for the municipal election in November.

To get it on the ballot, the borough would need to file a petition with Armstrong County. How many signatures would be needed was unclear and could require a legal interpretation of the state's election law, according to Armstrong County Elections Director Wendy Buzard.

Because of how the state provides money to libraries, Apollo Memorial could lose state funding if the North Apollo tax is rescinded, according to Glenn Miller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association.

Local support for libraries is lagging in the state, and eliminating a dedicated tax is going in the wrong direction, Miller said.

“We need more local municipalities to dedicate some of their resources to library services,” Miller said. “We know the value it returns to the community. “They deliver real value to kids, to senior citizens, to small business people. It's the biggest bang for the buck.”

Apollo Council President David Heffernan said he doubts the borough could support the library on its own.

Founded in 1908, Apollo Memorial is the oldest library in Armstrong County, Mahar said.

It includes a collection of nearly 27,000 catalogued items, 52 magazine and newspaper subscriptions, five computers and four computer tablets. Programs and services include children's story hours, a summer reading program, passports and dog licenses.

“We hope that the community will recognize the role of the library in the daily lives of our residents, and support us,” Mahar said.

Brian C. Rittmeyer is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4701 or brittmeyer@tribweb.com.

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