Library referendum a contentious issue in Oley

The proposed library tax referendum set to appear on the May 20 primary ballot in Oley is generating strong feelings among township residents who must decide if a library is something for which they are willing to pay.

Residents will be asked if they are willing to cough up a property tax of roughly 0.095 mill, or an additional $9.52 annually for a property assessed at $100,000, to fund the library, which is housed on the second floor of the Oley Valley School District administration building.

If the sentiment expressed at a recent township meeting is any indication, it would seem most are against a hike.

The library, which opened in September 2011, has been trying to join the Berks County Libraries System, which would allow them to share resources with other county libraries and obtain funds from the state.

However, because the library has not received enough municipal funding, the bid for affiliate status was rejected, and the library system is now requiring the Oley library to obtain the equivalent of $5 per resident in funding in order to join.

Oley Township has contributed $3,000 in each of the last two years to the library. Adjoining townships, including Alsace and Ruscombmanor, have declined to contribute, while Pike Township has contributed $500.

Township resident Mike Kline minced no words when he offered his opinion on funding the library. Kline, who serves as assistant fire chief of the Oley Fire Company, insisted the needs of emergency services should come first.

Im totally offended that we would fund a library instead of public services, he said. I would rather have better police services than a library.

Kline lamented the lack of funds for fire and ambulance services and said he would much rather see a fire tax than one to support a library. I am 43 years old. I dont want to sell flowers and hoagies forever. Our emergency services need to be funded. I am totally against a library.

Others in attendance at the meeting expressed the same sentiment, some noting taxes were already too high while others cited the need to keep township emergency services operating.

Library board president Helen Clogston, also at the meeting, defended the tax and appealed to residents to recognize the work that has thus far gone into procuring funds to support the library.

Were not lightly asking this, Clogston says. We have done everything we can do. Not all the townships are supplying the $5 and I find that discriminatory. If we get this, I would push the county to make this county-wide. They are standing firm on this $5; if the township says no, the township says no. This is what we have to do to get entrance into the system. And if we get in, Im going to push the county to make the other townships pay, because it isnt fair.

The decision to place a referendum on the ballot came at the March supervisors meeting, when supervisors Jeff Spatz and Mark Hoch voted to leave the decision to fund the library up to taxpayers. Supervisor James Coker was on vacation at the time.

Hoch said that he does not object to having a library in Oley but does take issue with the countys position that the money must come solely from the pocketbooks of Oley taxpayers. None of the supervisors is personally against the library, Hoch said. Its what the county is doing, forcing the library to come to the township and demand money.

Hoch said that while the amount that county is asking the taxpayers to pay is minimal, theres nothing to say that, down the road, they cant come back and ask for more. This is not a frozen rate, and we all know its going to cost more down the road for different things, he said. And he objects to the fact that neighboring townships are not being required to pay, even though taxpayers in those townships are expected to utilize the library.

Hoch said he thinks the time has come and gone for establishing a library in the township. With the internet and electronic books and things, I just feel personally that its too late to start a library in a small community like this. If it wouldve been established ten years ago, I think it would be well on its way.

Coker has been open and vocal about his opposition, and has gone on record saying he is 100% against the library. He, too, is concerned about the fact that the costs are falling solely on Oley, when neighboring townships arent being forced to fork over a dime. I dont think Oley should be funding it alone, he said.

Both Coker and Hoch urged voters to go to the polls to make their voice heard. All I ask is that the voters go out to the primary to make their wishes known, Coker said. This one, as far as Im concerned, is very important, and people need to vote. I would vote 17 times if I could.

Spatz, who disclosed in March that his wife is a member of the librarys board of directors, could not be reached for comment.