Officials in one Lehigh County municipality have decided it's time to check out their constituents' feelings on a library tax that's been in place for about two decades.
Salisbury Township commissioners voted 3-2 Thursday night to place an advisory referendum question on the November ballot asking residents if they would like to continue paying about $15 a household each year for access to the Allentown Library.
The three commissioners who favored the ballot question -- president James Brown, vice president Robert Martucci Jr. and James Seagreaves -- all said residents should decide if they want to continue paying the fee as part of their tax bill.
If the commissioners eliminate the tax, a household would have to pay $40 a year to use the Allentown Library, according to library director Renee Haines.
The opponents of the referendum -- commissioners Debra Brinton and Joanne Ackerman -- both questioned why one was needed.
"Has anyone [on the board] ever received a call complaining about this [tax]?" Brinton asked. "The only ones I've ever gotten have have been, 'Don't get rid of this.' So why are we doing this?"
"I hear what you hear: 'Don't take it away,' " said Ackerman.
Brown said he himself doesn't use the library -- "I get my son to look things up for me on the Internet."
Brinton pointed out that libraries are useful for things other than research. "I use the library," she told Brown, "when I want to read a book."
Martucci said knowing how people feel about the library tax would be useful because "everybody knows tax increases are looming. If we can soften the blow in one area, this might be it."
Brinton said even if taxes have to increase, cutting library access won't make people any less unhappy. "They'll just remember their taxes went up and [we] took away their library service."
"Were you here the night we discussed [collecting] grass clippings?" Martucci responded. "This place was packed ... and that was [for] just $13 a year."
Before the vote, township manager Randy Soriano said the tax was instituted after a 1993 referendum.
Haines told the commissioners that as of May, 2,366 township households -- 44 percent -- have a member who is a library card holder.
Haines informed the commissioners that having access to the Allentown Library also gives residents access to materials in the Bethlehem Area and Easton libraries.
"And [card holders] don't even have to travel," she added. "We can borrow for you and have it show up in 24 to 48 hours."
Ackerman worried about low voter turnout in a non-presidential election year skewing the results of the referendum.
But Brown said, "If [library access] means that much to [the people who want it], they should get out and vote."