A 'political ploy': Hellertown doubles down on denying Lower Saucon deal
- Hellertown released a public statement on its denial of the recent Lower Saucon funding offer
- Borough officials say the proposal was a 'political ploy'
- Lower Saucon Township Council is set to meet Oct. 18
HELLERTOWN, Pa. — Hellertown leaders now formally say the recent offer from Lower Saucon regarding library funding and a number of other proposals is nothing more than a “political ploy” and a power grab.
Borough Council released a public statement late Monday on Facebook, looking to “clear up any misperceptions.”
Lower Saucon Council on Sept. 20 offered a number of proposals to be “considered as a package and not as separate issues,” according to Township Manager Mark Hudson within the offer.
“In fact, even if the Borough agreed with the terms — which it most certainly does not — it could not accept the offer even if it wanted to, as the areas regarding the library would need to be agreed to by the library’s board, not the Borough Council."Hellertown Borough Council
It also required an answer from Hellertown by Oct. 12 or the township would rescind the proposal.
The offer included:
- Two years of funding for Hellertown Area Library at $125,000 a year, including an amendment to the library bylaws to allow for board seat appointments in proportion to funding amounts
- HAL would be required to get Access PA library cards for Lower Saucon residents
- Hellertown would be required to provide a five-year outlook on HAL funding
- Hellertown would have to seek partnerships with other area libraries or create an authority with Upper Saucon, Lower Saucon, Lower Milford and Coopersburg
- It also would include dropping current litigation involving Lower Saucon and Hellertown, not including the township’s litigation against the PA Office of Commonwealth Libraries — but HAL would be removed as a co-defendant
- Lower Saucon would plan to buy the Saucon Valley Compost Center at 2011 Springtown Hill Road by the end of 2024, then offer compost services to Hellertown residents for the next decade
- Lower Saucon would make two capital contributions of $25,000 — one in 2024 and another in 2025 — so its residents could use Hellertown Pool at the resident rate
'Attempting to wrest control'
Hellertown Council on Oct. 2 voted unanimously to deny the deal but agreed that an official statement for the public would come in the next week.
“This was Lower Saucon’s way of attempting to wrest control over Hellertown, something they knew full-well that would never be accepted,” the recent public statement reads.
“It is our hope that Lower Saucon residents see through this political ploy and realize that new leadership is needed if the two communities are going to work together in the future.”
“This was Lower Saucon’s way of attempting to wrest control over Hellertown, something they knew full-well that would never be accepted. It is our hope that Lower Saucon residents see through this political ploy and realize that new leadership is needed if the two communities are going to work together in the future.”Hellertown Borough Council
A key point mentioned at previous meetings of borough council and Hellertown Area Library Board of Directors is that the parties are two separate entities.
And since the Lower Saucon offer was addressed to Hellertown Borough Council, the officials said they can’t vote or act on behalf of the library.
“In fact, even if the Borough agreed with the terms — which it most certainly does not — it could not accept the offer even if it wanted to, as the areas regarding the library would need to be agreed to by the library’s board, not the Borough Council,” the statement reads.
Library officials on Sept. 28 said they were adhering to an Oct. 1 deadline to submit a State Aid Library Subsidy Application, which highlighted the library’s service area.
Lower Saucon residents can currently check out whatever they like within the HAL inventory, but they aren’t authorized to take part in interlibrary loans or the digital library.
The township also offers a library card reimbursement program for those who choose to buy a card for limited HAL access.
Lower Saucon Council President Jason Banonis on Sept. 20 called the offer “extraordinarily generous.”
Banonis later added that Hellertown also should consider what what could result for its taxpayers if the borough continued to oppose Lower Saucon’s rezoning plans that could lead to an expansion of the Bethlehem Landfill.
Lower Saucon Councilwoman Priscilla deLeon that day said it was "embarrassing" that township residents didn't currently have a home library.
Hellertown Council on Oct. 2 agreed to not pursue proposed litigation regarding the landfill's expansion.
Lower Saucon partnered with HAL about a decade ago.
The township ultimately chose to not renew a five-year agreement between the two municipalities that expired in 2020.
However, the township and borough signed a memorandum of understanding to extend library services through Jan. 1, 2022, to give officials time to draw up another potential agreement during 2021. Lower Saucon officials also voted to extend the existing services agreement through Jan. 31, 2022.
Another agreement has yet to come to fruition.
The township council last January approved a $50,000 payment to HAL for 2022 services instead of paying the annual $105,000 per capita contribution. At that same meeting, the Lower Saucon council majority voted to authorize its solicitor to pursue legal action against HAL and its board.
At one point, Lower Saucon offered to join with Southern Lehigh Public Library. That offer was never agreed upon between library officials.
Lower Saucon even made a $50,000 donation to SLPL, even though there was no particular affiliation between the two entities.
Residents have been concerned that SLPL won't be nearly as accessible for Saucon Valley residents. The library has been said to be understaffed as is and can't handle the addition to its service area.
Saucon Valley Compost Center
Back at the turn of the year, Hellertown sued Lower Saucon Township over unpaid invoices for the operation of the Saucon Valley Compost Center. Those included around $30,000 in mutual operations funds as well as $12,500 for grinding services.
Lower Saucon refused to pay that amount and continues to hold 100% of the compost center money, according to the suit.
The compost center, located at 2011 Springtown Road in Lower Saucon Township, was agreed upon by the two municipalities to jointly operate and serve residents of both areas as part of a 2007 agreement. This would also include sharing the mutual operation costs.
In July 2022, Hellertown sent a letter to Lower Saucon stating it wouldn't be renewing the joint operation agreement. The suit says that the township acknowledges its refusal to pay the previously mentioned money since it's no longer a partner in the center's operation.
This past summer, Lower Saucon issued a cease-and-desist letter to Hellertown asking for the compost center to shut down due to zoning violations.
Hellertown officials have said that its neighbors are still free to use the facility.
Starting March 1, Lower Saucon residents have been able to purchase annual compost center access cards for $25.
Lower Saucon officials opened a yard waste collection facility at 2150 Polk Valley Road back in April that will operate each Friday through the third week of November.
Lower Saucon officials are set to meet again at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18.