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Ballot issue to seek 0.25-mill property tax increase to support Springdale Free Public Library

| Thursday, April 17, 2014, 1:26 a.m.

Jim Anderson knows this isn't the best time to ask people to raise their property taxes, but it's something he's doing for the sake of the Springdale Free Public Library.

Anderson is president of the library's board of directors, which has gotten a special election question placed on the May 20 general primary ballot.

It will ask voters in Cheswick, Harmar, Springdale Borough and Springdale Township to levy a quarter-mill (0.25-mill) special tax to maintain and operate the library.

“To keep the library going, we need a permanent funding source,” Anderson said.

With other taxes and costs on residents rising, “it's a difficult thing to do,” Anderson said. “If we don't make a push now, I don't know when we'll ever make a push.”

All voters will be able to vote on the question regardless of their party affiliation, according to Allegheny County Elections.

The library, at the Springdale Borough building since 1978, serves residents of the four municipalities. The tax does not have to be approved in all four to go into effect; it will be collected in each of the municipalities where a majority of voters approve it.

Dedicated taxes supporting public libraries are the exception and not the rule in Pennsylvania, said Glenn Miller, executive director of the Pennsylvania Library Association.

Elsewhere in Allegheny County, voters in Monroeville will be asked at the primary if they want to impose a 1 mill special tax to support the Monroeville Public Library. It would raise an estimated $2.3 million annually.

“We are 100 percent in favor of predictable funding and stronger funding at the local level. In Pennsylvania, that's where our libraries struggle the most,” Miller said. “This is a pretty modest investment for a pretty phenomenal local resource.”

If approved in all four municipalities the Springdale library serves, the 0.25-mill tax would raise up to about $181,000, based on a combined total taxable assessed value of about $724.3 million, according to the Allegheny County Office of Property Assessment.

More than half, about $97,000, would come from Harmar.

“To us, obviously the big target is Harmar Township. There's a lot of Fortune 500 businesses down there,” Anderson said. “These people don't get to vote we do. It's chance for citizens to have corporations donate money toward an entity.”

How much the tax would cost homeowners in each municipality would vary with property values.

For owners of homes at median assessed values, the impact of the tax would range from about $26 per year in Cheswick and Harmar down to $21 in Springdale and Springdale Township.

If approved, the tax would take effect in January.

The tax could raise more than the library's $135,000 annual budget, Anderson said.

Contributions from the four municipalities and the Allegheny Valley School District now total $14,500, Anderson said.

The library receives funding from the state, donations, fundraisers and memorial gifts.

“We're not looking to get rich off this,” Anderson said. “We'd like to be able to maintain our staff without worrying about them quitting. We have to maintain certain hours and spend certain money on resources to maintain our state funding.

“We're dependent upon the funding sources we have, which have been cut in the last few years and continue to be cut,” Anderson said.

At a council meeting Tuesday, Springdale Councilman John Molnar said he'll vote against the library tax. He said the borough contributes financially and absorbs the cost of other services it provides.

“This borough has been so good to the library,” Molnar said. “I hope everyone realizes a vote to implement this is a self-imposed increase in your taxes.”

If the tax is approved, Molnar said the council will have to “take a serious look” at what it does for the library.

Molnar said the borough has absorbed the cost of lights for the library, and repairing a canopy and sidewalk. It has also applied for grants for its benefit, he said.

Along with the borough office, the library is responsible for the bulk of the borough building's utility bills, which Molnar said come to about $4,000 per month. He said the library contributes $350 toward that.

“I think we're doing more than our share ... to support the library,” he said.

Some Cheswick residents complained about the proposed tax at a council meeting there Tuesday. Cheswick officials told them it wasn't their idea.

To get the question on the ballot, a total of 59 petition signatures were the minimum required. That equals 3 percent of the total number of voters who cast ballots in the November election. The number of needed signatures ranged from nine in Springdale Township to 21 in Harmar.

A total of 150 signatures were collected — from 27 in Springdale Township to 52 in Harmar.

Anderson said the library board didn't have many problems getting signatures.

“A lot of people were sympathetic,” he said.

The library is forming a political action committee so it can raise money and campaign to raise awareness and support for the tax question.

The worst that could happen, Anderson said, is that the public finds out the library is struggling.

“If the people want the library funded, then they'll vote yes,” Anderson said. “If the people don't want the library funded, they'll say no, and we at least know where we stand.”

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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