The Akron Borough Council partially reversed its initial decision to defund the Ephrata Public Library in its 2023 budget, choosing instead to provide a portion of its usual funding.
In a 4-3 vote on Dec. 12, council approved using $10,600 from the borough’s operational reserves to fund the library. In recent years, the borough approved $20,000 for the library, equating to around 2% of the library’s overall budget.
The decision led to cheers from the large crowd gathered at the Akron Borough office who came to express their support for funding the library. Local residents for months had petitioned the council to provide the funding, including a protest outside the borough office before the meeting with dozens of people holding signs along South 7th Street.
Nathan Imhoff, council president, said his motion to move the funds was based on a figure of 53% of Akron residents using the library, translating to the $10,600 figure.
Imhoff said the need for the borough to repair its sewer system was a main concern driving the budget talks and looking for ways to cut costs. Council member Ryan Cochran said a recent bid for the sewer project came in nearly $100,000 over budget.
Imhoff said the council will consider giving the library more money later in 2023 after reviewing its budget and finances. He also said plans to tour the library to find out answers to questions on how money is being spent.
“I want to understand,” Imhoff said. “I want to learn. I’d like to find out from them if there are certain needs…operational things they need to keep their doors open and if there’s anything specific that we can say, ‘Hey, we want to support you on this, we’re behind you.’ I think that seems like a fair approach.”
The vote was split among council members, with Ryan Cochran, Paul Swangren and Kleon Zimmerman voting against funding. Cochran said he has “no problem” with the library, but he pointed to financial difficulties the borough faces.
“I have nobody from the Ephrata Library express any willingness to cut their budget even 1%,” Cochran said. “They asked for more money.”
Swangren said the library has not shared a detailed list of how the borough’s donation is spent. He also questioned the library’s funding of The Northern Lancaster Hub, a library program that was initially started with a grant from the United Way of Lancaster County and “serves as a way for local organizations to network and better help those we serve in the community,” according to its website.
“Is our money going to that?” Swangren said. “We don’t know.”
Council member Bonnie Young said she shared the economic concerns of the other council members, but she decided to vote to support the library funding.
“I’m so conflicted because I hear what you’re all saying, and I’m in agreement with a lot of what you’re all saying,” Young said. “But then I start thinking about the children.”
Council member Randall Justice said it was the idea of children being impacted by the library funding that caused him to support the budget measure.
“I grew up very poor, and our only source of access to information and entertainment was the library,” Justice said. “It’s where I learned to read. And we didn’t have a TV, so we’d get cassettes to listen to stories. So, I think about children, but I also think about economically challenged folks, and there’s so many more of them in this moment in time that are served.”
The council voted unanimously later in the meeting to approve the $1.9 million budget for 2023 with no tax increase.
Dozens of people spoke for more than an hour at the meeting, expressing their support for a change in the budget for the library.
Former council president John Williamson, dressed in a Santa Claus outfit, offered areas in the budget where he thought money for the library could come from, including a donation to the Lancaster County Drug Task Force.
Williamson also provided several examples of alternative funding methods for borough residents to raise money for the library, including setting up a dunk tank during the Day in the Park community event at Roland Park in June where council members could participate to raise funds or to sell yard signs to residents who want to support the library.
“It would be really good to find a way in which some creative fundraising activities could be used to raise those funds if the borough is unwilling to change the budget,” Williamson said. “It seems like there’s a need of a Christmas spirit and generosity all over.”
Imhoff said some of Williamson’s ideas were “fantastic suggestions,” but he said some of his budget comments were “very hurtful” coming from an individual who had previously been involved in budget discussions. Imhoff said he remembered at least one year when Williamson was president of council that the library funding had been reduced to $15,000.
“I really do appreciate all the things that you said, but I do want to say that as a former council member, understand you were up here and you had the chance to make these changes when you were here,” Imhoff said.
Akron resident Deborah Laws-Landis said she’s worked for Landis Communities in Lancaster County for almost 30 years, and budgetary concerns have been an issue in the past. She said when there has been a shortfall, the leadership staff will come to each department to ask for ways to cut the budget to find money for another program.
“I would really like to encourage you to look at Akron’s budget that way,” Laws-Landis said. “Look at everything. Look at what we call donations and not pick out just one to eliminate completely, but look at all and say, ‘How can that be shared?’”
Akron resident Erica Lausch said she understands the need to have a balanced budget, but she said it shouldn’t come at the expense of an organization like the public library.
“This isn’t the time to turn away from our community,” Lausch said. “This is the time to support our community, and the library’s important.”