Referendum rejection could close Unity library
By Joe Napsha
Published: Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012, 12:01 a.m.
Unity supervisors said they will close the book on local funding of library services next year because voters have rejected a library tax referendum, which likely means the branch library will close and a bookmobile will bypass the township.
The supervisors – Michael O'Barto, Jacob “Jake” Blank and John Mylant – said they would not vote to fund services provided by Adams Memorial Library of Latrobe because voters defeated the referendum in Tuesday's election.
“We're going to stop the funding. Unfortunately (for the library), the citizens made their choice,” said Mylant, who serves as Unity's representative on the Adams Memorial Library board of directors. The township allocated $50,000 to the library this year.
The library board will decide before Dec. 31 whether to close the Unity branch, said Kathryn “Kay” Elder of Unity, library board president.
“I don't believe we can keep that open” without money from the township or a benefactor, Elder said.
Adams Memorial officials said in a flyer they distributed that it would close its branch in the Unity municipal building and eliminate 19 bookmobile stops “if we don't get adequate funding.”
“There is no way to fundraise an additional $50,000 every year to replace this source of income,” the flyer stated.
The referendum, which would have dedicated revenue from .25 mill of property tax, was rejected by vote of 5,877-3,725, or 61.2 percent. The referendum was defeated in all 13 precincts, according to unofficial results.
“I am disappointed, but not surprised” by the vote outcome and the supervisors' decision to eliminate the library's funding, Elder said. “They have been funding the library and could continue on the same basis,” she added.
Elder said she believed the supervisors chose to place the question on the ballot in a presidential election, where attention would be focused on national races rather than local issues, “to give them cover to discontinue the funding.”
The tax would have generated approximately $71,000 for library services provided by Adams Memorial Library, The township had estimated the library tax would have cost the average property owner less than $7 per year extra.
The supervisors said they oppose township funding for library services, even though the referendum did not ask voters whether the township's current $50,000 allocation for library services should be eliminated. Unity's $50,000 allocation to Adams Memorial represents 0.8 of a percent of the township's $5.76 million budget for 2012.
“The fact of the matter is we cut funding (for 2012) and then restored it with an eye on the referendum. We gave the library a reprieve for one year,” O'Barto said.
The supervisors initially cut Unity's library allocation to $10,000 for 2012, from $25,000 in 2011, because of budgetary concerns. Adams Memorial officials protested the cut and the township agreed to raise its allocation to $50,000, plus free use of space in the municipal building. The library board closed the branch for one week at the end of January.
If Unity's library closes, O'Barto said, patrons could go to Adams Memorial. O'Barto said he has no plans for the township to start its own library.
With the plan to discontinue library funding and to withdraw from the Latrobe-Unity Parks & Recreation Commission next year, Elder said the township is withdrawing from regional services.
“I don't know what Michael O'Barto's vision is for Unity Township, but it is an island,” Elder said.
An opponent of the library tax referendum, Darlene Upson, a leader of the Concerned Citizens of Unity Township, said Wednesday she was “elated” that the referendum was defeated. Upson said she did a lot of “hard work” campaigning against the library tax.
“I'm happy to see it fail. They (township supervisors) should stop all the funding” for the library, Upson said.
A member of the conservative Southwest PA Tea Party in Westmoreland County, Upson said Unity residents can use Adams Memorial, regardless of whether Unity contributes to library services.
If the Latrobe library has funding problems, “it should not have paid staff” but should rely on volunteers to operate it.
“Shut it down, or charge the people who are patronizing it,” Upson said.
It is time for the township to focus on other issues, such as spending money on road improvements, rather than the library, Upson said.
“I think they (the library) are greedy. Unity Township gave them $50,000 and free rent. What more can Unity do? What Latrobe wants, Unity pays for,” Upson said.
Elder pointed out that Latrobe had approved a referendum for paying for library services.
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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