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Westmoreland

Hempfield rejects library funding referendum

| Monday, June 26, 2017, 9:30 p.m.
A patron walks into the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library in Greensburg on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.
Tribune-Review
A patron walks into the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library in Greensburg on Wednesday, Dec. 2, 2015.

The Hempfield supervisors made the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library's effort to find steady funding a little more difficult Monday night.

With a 3-2 vote, the board turned down the library's request to put a referendum for a 1-mill tax increase supporting the institution directly on the November ballot. Supporters have slightly more than a month to gather at least 673 voters' petition signatures to get onto the ballot that way.

The library is seeking a 1-mill tax in each of the six municipalities it serves in the hope of raising $716,000 a year for its daily operations. Its representatives had asked all six governments to consider putting the question onto their ballots.

“Outside of having a survey, I think going around with a petition would be a great way to survey what people think,” said Doug Weimer, chairman of the board of supervisors, who joined Tom Logan and Jerry Fagert in the majority against advancing the referendum. “Maybe that would be a better approach than just asking the five of us to sign on.”

“I'm disappointed,” said Jeanne Smith, president of the library board and a member of the Hempfield Area School Board.

Smith said supporters will shift into signature-collecting mode with the help of volunteers. The library has until August 1 to submit signatures to the board of elections, and will aim for at least 700 in case some are duplicates or invalid.

“We do have a lot of young people happy to do this; there are people on board in the community asking what they can do to help,” she said.

Several residents spoke against the proposed referendum at the meeting and warned that giving the library an easier route to the ballot could be taken as an endorsement by a board that has otherwise avoided raising taxes for the past 27 years.

“Your validation would legitimize it and would have a chilling effect on some much-needed scrutiny,” resident Bill Bretz said.

Supervisor John Silvis, who joined George Reese in the board minority, said the board's denial wouldn't halt the library's efforts or its long-term financial needs.

“This is an issue that's not going to go away — $500,000 is a lot of money; over 10 years that's $5 million,” Silvis said. “For that amount, maybe we could have our own library.”

Until Monday, New Stanton was the only municipality to reject putting the question on the ballot, although the borough's small population meant the library will only need to collect 35 signatures there. Greensburg, Youngwood and South Greensburg approved putting the question on their ballots.

Southwest Greensburg council postponed a decision last week because their solicitor wasn't present; Smith said the library would start collecting signatures there rather than wait for the next council meeting in mid-July.

Hempfield is the largest of the communities using the libraries, and would contribute the most by far — about $500,000 a year — if voters pass the referendum in November.

Hempfield currently sends the library about $30,000 per year. Its contributions used to be as high as $50,000 a year but were reduced starting in 2014.

Matthew Santoni is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724 836 6660, msantoni@tribweb.com or via Twitter @msantoni.

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