On Nov. 7, voters went to the polls, and the Greensburg Hempfield Area Library hoped to save its local library. Their referendum on the ballot asked for six local municipalities to pay an additional “1 mill levy” assessed on their taxable real estate value. These funds would be used to “restore, maintain and extend needed programs.”
Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg approved the referendum. This generates an extra $120,000 in funds every year for the library, which is “significant.” The city of Greensburg and municipality of Southwest Greensburg will then not have to put additional money from their budget to the library since it will be funded directly through the property tax.
“The long-term is to get better, more secured money from the municipalities and if needed, go back in five to six years and have another vote,” said Paul Adams, chair of the “Vote Yes” committee. Adams worked “pretty closely” with members of the library board thinking about the process of creating the referendum and how they ran the campaign.
The six municipalities include Hempfield Township, Greensburg, New Stanton, Youngwood, South Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg. If the vote didn’t pass, the library was likely to close in five years because money from their reserves would run out. Because of the success in Greensburg and Southwest Greensburg, this extends the time period for that closure to six or seven years instead of five.
“To some extent, we didn’t want to wait for the worst,” Adams said. “We didn’t want to wait until this either passes or we close next month. When we talked to the library board, they wanted to do this several years in advance because they knew it’s a difficult thing to ask voters to do, but you just don’t want to wait until the last minute either.”
The municipalities who voted “no,” including Hempfield, New Stanton, Youngwood and South Greensburg, will be expected to contribute to the library’s budget through appropriations from their normal budget. Last year, Hempfield gave $30,000 to the library for operational costs.
“That’s actually well below what the recommended amount is by the state,” Adams said. “If you look at state library code, the recommended amount that each municipality should put into their public library is $5 per resident. Hempfield has just over 40,000 residents, so you can kind of work that out that they should be putting in maybe $200,000. Now, we understand they have budget issues themselves, however.”
“In fact, the hope is that they might even increase those amounts to more reasonable state recommended levels, even if they don’t go the whole way up to $5 per resident,” said Adams. “I think it would be helpful, so that’s sort of the short term.”
The long term plan would be to put referendum back on the ballot again in five years.
Even if the municipalities provided only $2 per person instead of $5, they would be paying close to what they were paying years ago. The more local tax money and support the library receives from the public, the more money the state will provide for the library as well.
“The state is kind of interesting in that the amount of money the state will put in towards the library will in many ways reflect local support,” Adams said. “I know that sounds weird, but you’re rewarding those who are already getting more money from the local government, which is technically true. That’s kind of the formula the state uses.”
Votes in New Stanton were about 14 percent away and about 12 percent away in South Greensburg, but it “was expected given the location of the municipalities themselves.” The votes in Hempfield, which is the biggest municipality, and in Youngwood were about only 3 percent of voters away to approve the referendum.
“If they had swung their vote the other way, we would have won. I think that’s important too, like for Hempfield Township especially, there’s strong support from Hempfield Township,” Adams said. “Some people are worried that Hempfield Township supervisors are going to take the ‘no’ vote as that they can defund the library more, but I would kind of warn them, close to half your voters actually voted to raise their own taxes to support the public library. Many others didn’t want to tax, but certainly support the public library and actually want Hempfield to put more money in. I don’t think that the message is that the library is not publicly supported.”
The biggest argument, Adams said, is that some believe no one uses public libraries anymore. However, recent studies by the Pew Research Center have suggested that library usage is increasing.
“The more money and resources public libraries have, the more users they get,” Adams said. “The thing is, if your library does more, more people come in to use those services. It does create a supply and demand sort of thing. Many of the detractors say ‘oh it’s just books and old people using it,’ but the service of the library is much more than that.”
The Greensburg Hempfield Library includes an adult services library, which helps people navigate technology and train with that technology. Their services include free internet, which can help those financially struggling or without a computer search and apply for jobs. While there are the “traditional” books and videos, eBooks are also growing in popularity.
Kids programs are held weekly, as well as programs for all ages. The library hosts a book club and other book sales.
“That provides a great service,” said Adams, who is also a member of the Hempfield School Board. “They do lots of summer reading programs at preschools and all of the Hempfield elementary schools, so they are deeply integrated in early childhood education. I think it would actually have a significant negative impact on reading skills.”
Adams said that the library acts as a “gap” for the community in Westmoreland County. “It serves each bracket, if you will. I think a lot of people when they think ‘oh, public library,’ they really don’t know what goes on there on kind of a daily basis of how many different services are provided,” Adams said. “That was even eye-opening me for the last year and half because I got involved with the library. I knew a bit of it, but I learned so much more and realized how critical it is for many of our community residents.”
Without the Greensburg Hempfield Library, school districts with their own budgets probably couldn’t afford to run those reading programs. Elementary and preschool students would be “hurt” by not being able to read in the summer.
“I’m still worried,” Adams said. “The funding provided through the levies in Southwest and Greensburg help. I’m hopeful that they can secure slightly more funding from the municipalities, but again I wouldn’t hold my breath on that one either.”
“But it’s still there,” Adams said. “And in seven years, unless there’s a massive change in how libraries are funded in Pennsylvania and the level of municipal support, [the library] will run out of its fund balance and then have to start making serious cuts. And the problem is, they’re already operating near state minimum levels of hours and some services, and if you fall below that you don’t get your state money, so they’d lose $150,000-170,000 in state funds and that’s the end.”
Breakdown of the Library Budget
In 2016, the operating cost of the library was $751,111. Do they get enough money from their income sources to meet that cost?
Westmoreland County: $13,000
Hempfield Township: $30,000
City of Greensburg: $20,280
Borough of South Greensburg: $1,000
Hempfield Area School District: $10,000
Borough of Southwest Greensburg: $500
So how much would the referendum have made a difference for funding from each municipality?
City of Greensburg: $120,000
Hempfield Township: $500,000
Borough of South Greensburg: $22,000
Borough of Southwest Greensburg: $15,600
Borough of Youngwood: $26,500
Borough of New Stanton: $32,000
Budget from voteyesghal.com.