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Split votes on Greensburg Hempfield library tax extends its future — but not indefinitely

Jacob Tierney
| Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2017, 5:48 p.m.

Before the tax referendum on Tuesday's election ballot, the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library laid out two possibilities for its future.

If the tax passed, the library would go with "Plan A," expanding hours and services. If it failed, the library would resort to "Plan B," cutting its budget to the bone and eventually closing its doors for good.

The 1-mill property tax referendum failed in Hempfield, South Greensburg, Youngwood and New Stanton. It passed in Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg.

The tax will take effect in those two communities, contributing an additional $115,000 a year to the library's budget, but that isn't enough to keep the institution afloat, officials say. Now library board members are trying to figure out how to stave off "Plan B."

"We're going to really look at the figures. This was definitely a win for us: We're better off today than we were a day before yesterday," said library board President Jeanne Smith. "That will help us immensely, and it will buy us some time. But everything is just up in the air, and there are so many things we have to look at."

The board will meet Tuesday to discuss its options.

The library won't close its doors anytime in the near future. "Plan B" projected the library's financial reserves would be exhausted in six years, and the new tax revenue from Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg might extend that by a year or two, Smith said.

The library, with branches in Greensburg and Youngwood, likely will appeal for more funding to the municipal governments in communities that rejected the referendum.

Three of the four already contribute to the library in their annual budgets:

• Hempfield pays $30,000 a year.

• South Greensburg pays $1,000 a year.

• Youngwood does not directly pay into the library's budget but provides the space and pays the utilities for the library's branch in the borough, an estimated $6,161 value annually.

Municipal leaders in communities that rejected the referendum said they support the library but don't want to raise taxes to do it.

"I think the library needs to find another funding source. Just from the votes of the people, the people are not wanting any more taxes," said New Stanton Council President Scott Sistek.

The library should seek donations, not taxes, said Douglas Weimer, chairman of the Hempfield board of supervisors.

"I would hope that residents who were willing to have their taxes raised would take the amount of money they feel they would have paid if the tax passed and donate it to the library," Weimer said, estimating that if everyone in Hempfield who voted "yes" on the library referendum donated $25 it would raise more than $100,000 for the library.

Because Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg supported the tax, property owners there will be funding the library at a much higher level than neighboring communities, and those other municipalities should step up to narrow the gap, Smith said.

"I imagine there's going to be some (people) upset about it not passing in Hempfield and passing in Greensburg," she said.

Some library patrons said they were confused by the referendum.

Southwest Greensburg resident Diane Hartland said she thought the new tax would either pass or fail by a total majority vote. She was unaware that taxes might go up in her community but not in others. She's not happy about that, though she says she still would have voted to support the library.

"It frustrates me, because there's probably a smaller portion in (Southwest Greensburg) that use the library. ... I feel Hempfield Township has a big advantage, and should have voted yes," she said.

Greensburg Mayor Robert Bell said he's glad the city's citizens agreed to support the library.

"I kind of have mixed feelings. I'm happy the people of Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg recognized the value of the library, but I'm disappointed that the other communities didn't see that value," he said.

Another referendum is possible, Smith said.

Under state law, the library can't ask voters for a tax again for five years, but when that time comes, Greensburg Hempfield Area Library likely will be back on the ballot, she said.

Jacob Tierney is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 724-836-6646, or via Twitter @Soolseem.

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