Lower Saucon officials make an offer to Hellertown on library funding, access — and more
- Hellertown has until Oct. 12 to respond to a recent proposal from Lower Saucon Township
- The proposal involves the borough library, compost center and pool, and ongoing litigation
- Lower Saucon officials have voted to start a library committee to explore a digital-only option or regional collaboration for residents
LOWER SAUCON TWP., Pa. — A proposal for Lower Saucon Township to join Hellertown Library also seeks the borough's response on township access to the Saucon Valley Compost Center and the Hellertown Pool.
The Sept. 20 measure also addresses ongoing litigation.
Township council approved it by a 4-1 vote, with Councilwoman Priscilla deLeon in opposition.
Discussion took place in executive session before the meeting and saw no chance for public comment before the vote.
The proposal tells Hellertown it has to respond no later than Oct. 12, and if it's not accepted, it'll be “automatically rescinded.”
Hellertown Library Board plans to meet Sept. 28, while Borough Council meets Oct. 2 and Oct. 9.
“This is a comprehensive offer to be considered as a package and not as separate issues,” township Manager Mark Hudson wrote in the proposal.
Regarding library services
The library proposal would include two years of library funding from the township equal to $125,000 per year beginning the first day of 2024, along with a borough-approved amendment of Hellertown Area Library (HAL) bylaws to appoint seats on the library board in proportion to funding amounts provided by Lower Saucon and Hellertown.
The proposal says HAL would get Access PA library cards and more through the Office of Commonwealth Library starting Jan. 1, 2024, for all Lower Saucon residents.
Referring to results of the recent financial audit in Hellertown, Lower Saucon officials said the proposal would call for the borough to provide a statement on a five-year outlook regarding HAL funding, with a deadline of the end of next month.
Part of the deal also would require Hellertown to seek partnerships with other nearby libraries or create an authority with Upper Saucon, Lower Saucon, Lower Milford and Coopersburg.
It states such efforts could lead to a “larger, more economical, regional library.”
It also would call for all parties to drop any current litigation involving Lower Saucon and Hellertown, minus the township’s litigation against the PA Office of Commonwealth Libraries, which would ask for HAL to be removed as a co-defendant.
Other issues in the agreement
As part of the agreement, Lower Saucon would look to buy the Saucon Valley Compost Center property at 2011 Springtown Hill Road by the end of the year.
It’s now owned by Hellertown, but is in Lower Saucon.
“Lower Saucon Township will provide compost services to Hellertown Borough residents for a period of 10 years, subject to renewal, at a cost equal to what Hellertown Borough is currently charging Lower Saucon Township residents, beginning on January 1, 2024.”Lower Saucon Twp. Manager Mark Hudson
“Lower Saucon Township will provide compost services to Hellertown Borough residents for a period of 10 years, subject to renewal, at a cost equal to what Hellertown Borough is currently charging Lower Saucon Township residents, beginning on January 1, 2024,” township Manager Mark Hudson wrote in the proposal.
Also in the agreement is a provision saying that, at the same rates as before, Lower Saucon residents could use the Hellertown Pool come the 2024 season, as the township would make two capital contributions of $25,000 each in 2024 and 2025.
Comments from council
Council President Jason Banonis called the offer “extraordinarily generous,” saying its acceptance would be “for the betterment of the community.”
“This council needs to move forward from these issues,” Banonis said. “Hopefully Hellertown Borough recognizes that, as well.”
He also later encouraged Hellertown officials to think about financial implications for taxpayers if the council continues to oppose the Lower Saucon rezoning plan that could lead to an expansion of the Bethlehem Landfill.
“If that landfill closes and they take the trash elsewhere, that’s going to be added cost to the residents of Hellertown Borough,” Banonis said.
Councilwoman deLeon, in a Sept. 20 Facebook post, questioned the “unrealistic conditions” within the proposed agreement.
“Throw the community a bone and the residents forget all about the current council majority votes and actions regarding the compost center, the library, the pool and the landfill debacle,” deLeon said.
“Let’s not forget the uncivilized treatment of residents at council meetings or the thousands of dollars being spent on legal fees.”
A look back
At Lower Saucon Council’s Aug. 30 meeting, township officials approved a new library committee to pursue possibilities of a “library for the future” for township residents.
That could include a look at whether a digital-exclusive library option or a merger of Lower Saucon with surrounding municipalities for a library board could bode better for taxpayers and their families.
At the moment, Lower Saucon residents have the ability to join any library they want, but cards from HAL will only provide them limited services.
“I think this is going to be shown as being political on Hellertown. So far, I think they’re being sued under the Right-to-Know [Law] because the Hellertown library will not turn over emails.Lower Saucon Twp. Council member Thomas Carocci
Councilman Thomas Carocci said he doesn’t have a problem with investing in a library, but the township has to spend its money wisely — and Hellertown library officials are just after township money.
“I think this is going to be shown as being political on Hellertown,” Carocci said. “So far, I think they’re being sued under the Right-to-Know [Law] because the Hellertown library will not turn over emails.
“Those depositions, as I understand, have started, and I think we’re gonna find out exactly what games they’re playing. But I think this committee’s a great idea, and I think the sooner the better we can get started and meeting and figuring out what’s best for Lower Saucon Township residents.”
Low usage estimate
On Aug. 30, Carocci estimated the library card reimbursement program shows fewer than 1,000 people are likely using the Hellertown library services.
He cited data from a township library card reimbursement program showing 310 issued cards among 82 individuals and 228 families.
That program, according to the township website, would pay residents part of the card fee: individuals $20 and a family $40.
The Census estimates just over 11,000 people are living within the township borders.
"I think this committee’s a great idea, and I think the sooner the better we can get started and meeting and figuring out what’s best for Lower Saucon Township residents."Lower Saucon Twp. Council member Thomas Carocci
Council President Jason Banonis that day said there’s been attempts to give $50,000 of township taxpayer money to Hellertown “on multiple occasions,” but each time it’s been sent back.
He said HAL officials also have taken steps to remove Lower Saucon from its service area, and the Office of Commonwealth Library had granted that request “without giving Lower Saucon Township due process.”
'Between a rock and a hard place'
Council Vice President Mark Inglis said the public has been “misinformed” on most of the library access discussion, as talks with Hellertown, Upper Saucon and the Southern Lehigh Public Library haven’t gone as planned up to that point.
He later added that a regional library with neighboring partners is the council majority’s ultimate goal.
“We’re kind of between a rock and a hard place,” Inglis said. “I don’t know why people don’t see that.
“You cannot tell us, “Pay this, less representation and then you can come here.’”
DeLeon that day said it was “embarrassing” that Lower Saucon didn’t have a home library.
“We’re kind of between a rock and a hard place. … I don’t know why people don’t see that. You cannot tell us, “Pay this, less representation and then you can come here.’”Lower Saucon Twp. Council Vice President Mark Inglis
She later made a motion to remove Lower Saucon from all litigation associated with HAL to make room for negotiations and a long-term agreement before making moves for a new committee.
The motion didn’t get a second, so it failed.
Following further discussion, Banonis made a motion for township staff — including himself, solicitor B. Lincoln Treadwell Jr., Manager Mark Hudson, Director of Finance Cathy Gorman and council Vice President Mark Inglis — to pursue a possible move toward a Lower Saucon-exclusive digital library or a potential agreement among surrounding municipalities for a library authority.
The new committee would be set to report back to council in 90 days.
That saw a vote of 4-1, with deLeon opposing.
Public comments, background
During public comments, a number of residents came forward, speaking positively of Hellertown’s current offerings and that a digital-only option wouldn’t be the same.
One person said if council agreed to put money into the Easton Road ball field project, they should be more than willing to pay what’s needed to the library.
LehighValleyNews.com has reported on previous community input saying that Lower Saucon’s proposal to join the service area of Southern Lehigh Public Library would not go over well, since the library already is understaffed.
Others are concerned that since SLPL is in Lehigh County, it won’t be nearly as accessible by distance for Northampton County residents.
Lower Saucon originally joined HAL 10 years ago, previously using the Bethlehem Area Public Library but separating because of potential cost savings.
Lower Saucon officials made an offer to join SLPL in late 2021 amid contract negotiations with HAL. They moved to break from HAL in early 2022, also making a $50,000 donation to SLPL.
Last October, the state Office of Commonwealth Libraries approved Lower Saucon’s request to do away with HAL.
An April proposal from Lower Saucon would have called for a 10-year agreement involving a quarter-million dollars in American Relief Fund money and $75,000 annually. SLPL didn’t make a decision on the proposal by its May 4 deadline.
Hellertown library staff relayed a message from LehighValleyNews.com to the library board for comment, but there’s been no contact.