A referendum that will determine whether Parkland School District property owners will pay additional tax to build a new $13 million community library in Upper Macungie Township may be the most significant thing on the ballot for local voters in next week’s general election.
But you might never know that if you judged by the turnout at a series of Town Hall meetings to discuss the project.
Library personnel outnumbered the two attendees at the fourth of five such meetings on Tuesday afternoon at the South Whitehall Township administration building. The low turnout was typical of what had been seen in previous meetings in North Whitehall and Upper Macungie.
“I would have liked to have seen more people,” said Karl Siebert, president of the Parkland Community Library Board of Directors.
It might be, Siebert said, that people have already decided how they intend to vote. But whether that is good news or bad news for library officials and fans who favor new construction is difficult to tell.
Property owners currently pay .1 mills—$22 a year to the average homeowner in the school district—to support library services. The ballot question asks to increase that tax to .2978 mills, or about $66 a year for the average homeowner whose property is assessed at $221,000.
At the Town Halls, library officials argue that less than $1 a week for the average homeowner, new library construction is a relative bargain.
A Pennsylvania Department of Education study shows that the return on tax investment for library development is $5.50 for every $1 spent, said Barry Cohen, vice president of the library board.
Library use can also save a family hundreds of dollars every year if they borrow DVDs rather than buy or rent, borrow music or visit to read periodicals. Siebert likes to use the example of the international affairs weekly The Economist, which costs $135 a year for a subscription.
Meanwhile, a study of the other eight library systems in Lehigh County shows that Parkland currently has the smallest facility—in square-footage and items in its collection, when compared to the population it serves.
The new library would be built along Grange Road in Upper Macungie, amid developing park land that will include ball fields and a dog park.
At 30,000 square feet, it would be more than five times the size of the existing library on Walbert Avenue. Built in 1981, that facility would remain open for limited hours to serve the residents of South Whitehall.
The children’s section of the new library would be roughly the same size as the current library and—for the first time, include a selection of young adult titles, Siebert said.
The new library would include a local history section, an audio visual area, public meeting space and triple the current number of work stations. Patrons would no longer have to wait four to six weeks for current best sellers because of a lack of space, Siebert said.
Another 7,000 items that are currently held in storage would be put out on the shelves for easier access.
About one quarter of the expense of new building would be paid for from existing library savings. The rest would be borrowed and paid back using money raised from the tax increase.
If the ballot question is approved, construction would begin in the spring and grand opening of the new library would take place near the end of 2015, Siebert said.