Looks like voters in Parkland School District will decide if they are willing to pay a higher annual tax for a new Parkland Community Library.
Without taking a position on the merits of the proposal, on Tuesday night the Parkland School Board voted 7-1 to get a referendum on the ballot of the Nov. 6 municipal election that proposes tripling the library tax.
That tax is the library’s major source of funding. It is collected from residents of North Whitehall, South Whitehall and Upper Macungie townships – the three municipalities in Parkland School District.
“The school district is not increasing the tax,” stressed school board solicitor C. Steven Miller. “The school district has nothing to do with whether this tax gets increased or not. The school district is merely a vehicle that the library needs to use to get this question on the ballot.”
By approving the referendum, Miller explained, the school board was only saying: “We’re going to let the voters decide whether they want to increase this special tax.”
“We are neutral without position on the question,” stressed board member Roberta Marcus, who explained the school district just collects the tax for the library.
The school board’s neutrality on the possible tax increase “was appropriate for their role,” said library vice president Barry Cohen after the meeting. “We were not disappointed and we very much appreciate what they did tonight.”
The board solicitor said the school district is involved only because the library does not have the authority to collect taxes or to submit a tax referendum question. “It has to go through a municipality or a school district. They’ve chosen the school district because it encompasses the three townships.”
If approved by voters in the three townships, the tax increase will triple the amount they pay to the library each year, according to Parkland Community Library officials who attended the meeting but did not address the school board.
They explained a homeowner whose home is worth $100,000 now pays a $10 annual library tax. If the increase is approved, that will jump up to $29.78 a year. Someone with a home worth $200,000 will pay $59.56 rather than the $20 they now pay.
The resolution passed by the board states that the increased library tax will be reduced when the library pays off its loan for its planned new building – no later than July 1, 2035.
School board member Barry Long cast the only no vote, without offering any explanation during the board meeting.
After the meeting, Long said: “I support the board moving forward.”
He added: “Now I’ll let the resolution speak for itself. When people read the resolution, they should understand why I voted no.” He said taxpayers will have to decide if they want to support a $9.5 million project for 20 years.
That resolution passed by the board, including the ballot question and a “plain English” explanation, is online.
The referendum question must be approved by the Lehigh County elections board to be placed on the November ballot.
If approved by voters, the library tax will increase on July 1.
Miller said that tax rate has not changed since it first was approved by voters in 1998.
The rate’s been the same, but the amount of money generated by the tax has increased as more people moved into the school district, explained library board president Karl Siebert.
Siebert said that tax generated about $735,000 for the library last year.
If voters approve that increase, he said the revised tax will generate about $2.1 million a year for the library.
Siebert said about 80 percent of his library’s annual budget comes from that library tax. It gets about 10 percent of the budget from the state and the rest of the money comes from donations, grants and fines.
He said about 56,000 people live in the three townships that the library serves and the library has 21,500 cardholders.
Siebert indicated the marketing strategy to convince residents to vote for the tax increase has not yet been fully worked out, but mentioned it will include yard signs.
He said the library’s a political action committee, funded by donations, will do direct marketing after the ballot question is accepted by the county elections board.