locally owned since 1854

No plan to close library

Posted 3/21/12

Council says rumors of closing are unfounded, but alternative funding for the $240k operating costs are being sought.

 

Middletown Borough Council denied rumors that it wanted to close the borough-owned Middletown Public Library, but it …

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No plan to close library

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Council says rumors of closing are unfounded, but alternative funding for the $240k operating costs are being sought.

Middletown Borough Council denied rumors that it wanted to close the borough-owned Middletown Public Library, but it is enlisting a state agency to help it fi nd alternative sources of money to fund it and recommend how it
should be run, Council President Christopher McNamara said.

Middletown and the state Bureau of Library Development will investigate ways to “streamline’’ funding for the library and conflicting borough ordinances that direct who – council or the library’s board of directors – runs the facility, McNamara told a crowd at a council meeting on Monday, March 19. Currently, the library cost the borough about $240,000 annually, an amount equal to 1.5 mills of real estate tax in the borough, he said.

While no alternative funds have been identified yet, the borough could be eyeing some of the Dauphin County library tax proceeds that taxpayers in neighboring Royalton, Lower Swatara Twp. and Londonderry Twp. pay to
fund the county-run library system, though such a suggestion is “getting ahead of us,’’ said Chris Courogen, borough secretary and director of communications. The Middletown library draws people from outside the borough, said Courogen, and the issue is “How do we afford to provide a library for this whole end of the county?’’

The library also has about $500,000 in an endowment, said Courogen.

Rumors about the library closing circulated after council postponed appointments to the library’s board earlier this month. A number of board members resigned for health reasons and job demands, or because they moved out of the borough after their homes were flooded by Tropical Storm Lee in September, leaving just one of seven seats filled.

The library needed a board to apply for $30,000 in state funds used to buy books, periodicals and other items for
its collection, said Christine Porter, the library’s director.

The library has received an extension of its deadline and is not in danger of losing state funds, said McNamara.  Instead of appointing board members, council has appointed three of its own members to investigate funding
alternatives and recommend how the library should be governed.

Middletown ordinances contradict themselves on who runs the library and hires library employees – council or the library board, said McNamara. One amendment to the borough ordinances forbids council members from serving
on the board, though council apparently unwittingly broke that rule last year when it appointed two councilors
to fill empty seats.

Councilors Barbara Arnold, Scott Sites and Judy Putric will sift through the conflicting ordinances and make a
recommendation, said McNamara.

“What I’m trying to do, folks, is clean it up so that it’s operating the right way,’’ McNamara told the crowd,
which included candidates who had volunteered to serve on the library board.

Council’s intent is to settle legal questions about who controls the library, and investigate funding sources while juggling expenses from the recovery of the September flood, borough officials said.

“There’s no intent to close the library, so whatever rumors you hear on the street, do away with,’’ said McNamara.

Council’s move drew a mixture of support and trepidation from Christine Goldbeck, one of four candidates
whose nomination to fill seats on the library board was postponed.

“I advocate streamlining for efficiency and cost-effectiveness,’’ said Goldbeck, who sat in the audience Monday and introduced herself to councilors during the meeting.

“My concern is that the council is looking to consolidate power and does not have the expertise in library science, policy and operations. Both aspects are troubling,” said Goldbeck in an email to The Press And Journal Tuesday.  “When there are willing experts to volunteer their time to the community on this board, or any other board or
commission, why would council appoint councilors to the task? I sense a power grab and I sense a lack of understanding about the restricted accounts and overall operations.’’

Council’s motives are to keep the library open, not close it, said Courogen.

“Nobody wants to see the library go away, but sometimes it’s a real challenge for a borough this size to operate a library for the southern part of the county,’’ he said.

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

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