Tax to support Unity library to be put to vote
By Joe Napsha
Published: Sunday, Nov. 4, 2012, 11:59 p.m.
The fate of Unity's library branch could be determined Tuesday when township voters decide whether to support a binding referendum to allocate 0.25 mill of local property taxes to fund library services in the municipality.
The tax would generate about $71,000 for Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe, which operates the Unity branch in the municipal building and the bookmobile that serves the township, according to an explanation of the referendum that will be posted at polling places in the municipality.
The annual library tax would continue at a rate of 0.25 mill unless it is changed by approval of another ballot question, according to the ballot explanation statement.
Unity contributed $50,000 this year to Adams Memorial Library.
Michael O'Barto, chairman of the supervisors, and Supervisor Jacob “Jake” Blank said they would not vote to provide township funding for library services if the referendum is defeated,
O'Barto and fellow supervisor John Mylant, who is Unity's representative on the library board, said they are not taking a position on the referendum.
Blank said he supports the referendum for the library funding, noting that it would cost most households in the township less than $10 a year.
“It's a statement for the future to keep the library here,” Blank said.
The township estimated that the library tax would cost the average property owner about $6.50 a year. That information was eliminated from the final version of the referendum because Westmoreland County Solicitor R. Mark Gesalman said it might open the door to legal challenges from property owners who were made to pay more than the average.
If approved, the township's real estate levy would increase to 3.45 mills, from its current rate of 3.20 mills, O'Barto said. Of the current tax rate, one mill is dedicated to funding the township's fire departments.
One opponent of the referendum, Darlene Upson, a leader of the newly formed Concerned Citizens of Unity, said most of the group's 40 members oppose the library referendum.
“The whole thing (library and bookmobile) is not needed. I'm in favor of having libraries, but not in favor of that one — that's not needed. There are other libraries in the area, in Greensburg and Latrobe,” said Upson, a member of the conservative Westmoreland County-based Southwest PA Tea Party.
A referendum supporter, Kathryn M. “Kay” Elder of Unity, president of the Adams Memorial Library board, said the library is a valuable community asset that's used by many people.
“The idea of spending less than $10 a house (per year) for this is a no-brainer. It's less than a couple cups of coffee,” said Elder, who also serves on the Greater Latrobe School Board.
She said the library's bookmobile serves New Alexandria and Donegal because the state aid the library receives requires services to outlying communities.
Adams Memorial Library operates its Unity branch in the municipal building four days a week, for a total of 20 hours. The Unity branch circulated about 23,500 items last year, more than eight standalone libraries in the county. About 21 percent of the total cardholders in Adams Memorial Library are Unity residents, according to the library.
“It's convenient for people of Unity. They don't have to go to Latrobe. People use it for research, for the computers,” Elder said.
Upson has been distributing leaflets asking voters to oppose the library tax and said that about 60 percent of about 200 people she has spoken with will vote against it. The township has a population of about 22,000 and 14,570 registered voters.
Upson said it's not fair that Unity taxpayers provide funding for a bookmobile that makes stops in Donegal and New Alexandria, two municipalities that do not provide any allocation to Adams Memorial Library.
The library gets state funding to provide services to outlying communities and has a benefactor in Donegal who covers the fuel costs for one stop in that area, twice a month, Elder said.
Library officials have said that the bookmobile makes 20 stops in the township, and Unity's money will not go toward bookmobile services in other communities.
Unity supervisors in March voted to place the referendum on the November ballot after a dispute arose with Adams Memorial Library that resulted in the closing of the branch for a week in February. The supervisors initially cut Unity's 2012 library contribution to $10,000, then raised it to $25,000, the same as in 2011. The library branch reopened after the township agreed to a $50,000 contribution.
The library does not pay for the space in the municipal building, a contribution the township values at $7,500.
O'Barto said he continues to “have issues” with Adams Memorial Library's handling of its spending, particularly its operating the bookmobile in New Alexandria and Donegal, municipalities that do not contribute to the library.
He questioned how Mt. Pleasant could operate a library with a donation of just $7,500 from Mt. Pleasant Borough, while the township is providing Adams Memorial Library with a $50,000 contribution.
Joe Napsha is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-836-5252 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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