locally owned since 1854

Generous patrons built library endowment

Posted 3/28/12

Interest on $375,000 fund helps pay for books and computers, but much of it comes with restrictions that limit spending.


The Middletown Public Library has about $375,000 in endowments saved in various bank accounts, money from the …

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Generous patrons built library endowment


Interest on $375,000 fund helps pay for books and computers, but much of it comes with restrictions that limit spending.


The Middletown Public Library has about $375,000 in endowments saved in various bank accounts, money from the sale of old books or the wills of grateful patrons.

The funds are invested and the interest used for a variety of things, some stipulated in the wills of the dead who thoughtfully left the library a piece of their estate. Interest pays for the purchase of books, a summer reading program, the purchase of computers and other library equipment, depending on the intentions of the deceased.

Other endowments are open-ended, money stashed away from years of used book sales and other fund-raisers, earning interest ranging from 0.05 to 3.25 percent.

The funds help the library add to its collection. Some were used on a new computer. About $25,000 may be used to pay for the renovation of the library’s elevator this year, matching funds needed to secure a potential state grant for the project, said Christine Porter, the library’s director.

How they’re used in the future is up for speculation, however. Middletown Borough Council wants to investigate alternative ways to fund the borough library, relieving the borough of just about the entire expense.

Council has appointed three of its members to investigate how the library should be run and funded.

Borough ordinances contradict themselves on who is responsible for running the library – council or the library’s seven-member board of directors, said Council President Christopher McNamara.

McNamara hinted that the borough wants to find alternative sources to help fund the library, which costs the borough about $240,000 a year.

Council may be hoping for money from Dauphin County, which collects a library tax from townships and boroughs outside of Middletown for county-funded libraries.

“I think everything is on the table,’’ said Chris Courogen, borough secretary and director of communications. “I don’t think anything is off the table. I don’t think anybody has any predetermined notions of what money is going to be used how or where it’s coming from.’’

Whatever council’s committee decides, one thing is certain – the borough will not close the library, vowed Courogen. Rumors of the library’s closing grew after council tabled a move earlier this month by Councilor Scott Sites to fill six empty seats on the library board. The vacancies accumulated over the last several months due to job commitments, illness and a move out of the borough by the board’s former chairwoman whose home was damaged in the September floods.

“The goal is not to eliminate the library, it’s the preservation of the library,’’ said Courogen.

The library has been a borough fixture since 1926, moving from place to place over the decades as it grew – a home at the corner of Emaus and Pine streets, the old high school on Water Street, an old shoe store on South Union Street. It moved into its current quarters, a renovated fire hall on Catherine Street, in 1978.

Some of the library’s endowments can’t legally be used for salaries, electricity, heat and other library expenses because of stipulations in the wills of donators that specify how the funds should be used, said Porter.

But the endowments created by years of book sales, socked away by past library directors and board treasurers, probably could be used by council to fund operating expenses, she said.

Most libraries keep reserves that amount to about six months’ worth of expenses, and council’s use of endowment funds could eat into that. Still, “It’s not the worst thing that could happen to us,’’ she said.

Several times over the years, Middletown has investigated the possibility of the Dauphin County Library System taking over the library – the last time in 2005, said Porter. The system owns legal service rights to 38 county municipalities.

Exactly what council’s committee – Sites and councilors Barbara Arnold and Judy Putric – will recommend is unknown, said Courogen. “I think the idea is for this committee to say, ‘If we are going to establish a library today, what would be the best way to do it?’ ‘’ he said.

A majority of council members ran on campaign promises to lower the electric rates it charges borough customers from the sale of power by cutting borough expenses. That, coupled with unexpected expenses from the cleanup after September’s devastating flood, is part of the motivation behind the examination of the library’s operation.

Jim Lewis: 717-944-4628, or jimlewis@pressandjournal.com