Volunteers work outside the Pottstown Regional Public Library on a past summer’s day
POTTSTOWN PA – Can residents in the Lower Pottsgrove portion of the Pottsgrove School District do what they proved capable of five years ago this month: rescue the Pottstown Regional Public Library by encouraging the township Board of Commissioners to restore proposed funding cuts? The school board’s leader is hoping for it.
The library may literally be banking on it.
A majority of commissioners announced last Monday (Jan. 6, 2014), during their reorganization meeting, that they intended to conduct a Feb. 3 (Monday) hearing in part to consider cutting $10,000 in library funding from the township’s already approved 2014 budget. The library had been allocated to receive a $5,000 increase in Lower Pottsgrove’s contribution, from $60,000 annually in each of the past five years, to $65,000 this year.
The majority last week instead suggested it wants to now lower the donation to $55,000, eliminating the increase and another $5,000 as well. Those commissioners – board President Bruce Foltz, Vice President Stephen Klotz, and new member Shawn Watson – have indicated they would prefer to put more money into the police department and other priorities.
Pottsgrove Board of School Directors’ President Justin Valentine said he has sent a letter to commissioners thanking them for their community service and congratulating them on their desire to save money, but urging them to reconsider the library’s needs. “Keep this line item intact,” Valentine respectfully asked, “as the library is a vital resource to not only Pottstown but to Pottsgrove and surrounding communities as well.”
“The library also serves those in need with access to the Internet for research and even those who are applying for jobs. For these reasons, I ask that you continue to support the library and keep its funding in place,” Valentine’s letter concluded.
When the letter’s mailing was announced on Facebook forums Friday (Jan. 10), it carried only Valentine’s signature. Given the relationship the school district and library have formed in years past, however – the library conducts summer programs at Pottsgrove elementary schools, for example – it’s likely most if not all of his fellow board members feel the same way.
At the commissioners’ meeting, Foltz, Klotz and Watson all pledged to personally visit the library and see its facility and programs before making a final decision. It was a former commissioner and now library volunteer, James Phillips, who made that recommendation. “Once you make that visit, I know your minds will be changed,” said Phillips, who simultaneously acknowledged “how hard it is to sit in your seats and approve a budget.”
Phillips himself was part of the board budget committee during his tenure as commissioner.
If history is any guide, the possibility exists that the library can be spared. A similar proposal to cut its funding was raised by commissioners, Klotz among them, as the board approved its 2009 budget. Within a month, the money was added back in. The difference-maker at the time was dozens of comments from Lower Pottsgrove property owners, as well as Pottsgrove students.
Klotz admitted then he was surprised by the backlash accompanying the proposal. “I thought everyone was getting most of their information from the Internet,” he was quoted in a story published Dec. 19, 2008, by The Post. But when even members of high school-level sports teams he coaches took him to task over the library money, “I knew I was changing my mind,” Klotz conceded, the story said.
Throughout his tenure, Klotz has remained an advocate of the township’s two fire companies and its police department. His desire to give them more resources is well known. He also occupies a far different position now than then. He has more years under his belt as commissioner, formed new political alliances, and moved up the board ranks to become vice president.
What’s not yet known is whether Pottsgrove parents who are township taxpayers feel the same way now as they did in 2009 and, if they do, whether or not their wishes will be heeded.
Meanwhile, the library Board of Directors is scheduled to meet tonight (Monday, Jan. 13), with the topic of Lower Pottsgrove’s proposal on its agenda.
Editor’s note: In the interest of full disclosure, Managing Editor Joe Zlomek was a member of the Pottstown Public Library board between 1989 and 1991.
Related (to the Lower Pottsgrove Board of Commissioners’ Jan. 6 meeting):
Photo from the Pottstown Regional Public Library