r/news - PA borough cites women's health classes as reason for wanting to cut funding to library -

r/news – PA borough cites women’s health classes as reason for wanting to cut funding to library

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The Akron Borough Council’s proposed 2023 budget includes no funding for the Ephrata Public Library, the first time in over 30 years the municipality’s elected leaders have withheld the contribution.

Penny Talbert, the library’s executive director, said she’s heard little from the borough about its plans.

“Akron Borough, for decades, has been one of the highest supporters of Ephrata’s library, and then for this to happen without any kind of conversation or communication…it’s odd,” Talbert said.

Akron council member Ryan Cochran said he supported the budget cut, citing larger funding challenges. The borough is in a position where it needs to cut costs or raise taxes, he said, and he believes other expenses — for parks, road projects and sewer work — are more pressing than the library.

Cochran understood the borough’s contribution to the library to be minimal after Talbert addressed the council’s questions during an October meeting.

“They really kind of seemed to play it down, like it didn’t matter that much to them,” Cochran said.

Akron’s annual contribution for 2022, $20,000, comprises just 2% of the library’s overall budget.

Akron is a “very high circulating municipality” with 53% of residents as active library card holders, Talbert said. She believes it just makes sense for the borough to continue funding the library.

Concern for conservative values

But recent borough public meetings suggest there may be more to the decision than fiscal pressures. In September, the council hesitated to approve the transfer of the second half of its annual contribution. One member, Paul Swangren, said the library has an “agenda” that is not appropriate for the community’s conservative values, according to meeting minutes.

Library officials later addressed council’s concerns about several health literacy programs offered at the library. Talbert said Ephrata library does not fund these programs and simply acts as a host.

Akron Borough and Ephrata library debate funding

Akron Borough and Ephrata library debate funding

When: Akron Borough Council meeting, Oct. 10.

Swangren and five other council members did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Cochran said he believes Swangren’s point about the library needing to reflect conservative values stems from private conversations the council member has had with residents.

Talbert said she made repeated attempts to understand the borough’s concerns but has heard little from them. And she said no representatives of the Akron community have communicated any concerns about specific books or other materials in the library’s collection. Talbert said residents have been supportive of the library, noting that many have voiced objections to the borough’s decision to cut funding.

“I just think it’s very important that the library represents everyone in the community. It seems a bit odd that they would say ‘I want you to represent our viewpoint’ when the library’s mission is to give unbiased information.”

Meanwhile, the debate in Akron coincides with vocal challenges to public school libraries in parts of Lancaster County, with parents groups and some elected school boards considering the removal of books and materials that touch on issues of sexuality, gender and racism.

Future support

The library requested a 20% funding increase from all of the municipalities that support it, which includes Akron and Ephrata boroughs as well as Clay and Ephrata townships. Talbert said she expects to receive the boost from the other three municipalities, but only heard about Akron’s plans to cut funds last week.

All of the municipal contributions go toward salaries, Talbert said, and it’s never enough to cover the library’s payroll. She noted the library has to raise 65% of its budget on its own every year.

If the funding cut is approved, Talbert said the library’s own budget conversations will be “especially painful” this year. She’s not sure how officials will figure out how to close the gap.

Cochran said Ephrata library can continue to request funding from the borough in the future if the Akron budget is approved as is.