Mayor: Withhold funding until Kennett Square gets representation on library board
By Steven Hoffman
Mayor Matt Fetick is asking Kennett Square Borough Council to consider withholding the financial support that the municipality provides to the Kennett Public Library until the borough is given adequate representation on the library board.
At Monday night’s council meeting, Fetick shared a letter with borough council that explained his concerns.
“As you know, the last several months have seen some changes causing significant concern among our residents in regards to the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library now known simply as the Kennett Library,” Fetick wrote. “I can tell you that I have had more communication from residents expressing not only their concern, but their disappointment, in the Library Board, than any other issue since being elected six years ago. Our residents have a lack of faith in the current board to lead the library into the future.”
On Tuesday morning, the library on State Street in Kennett Square was buzzing with activity. Fifteen students were taking part in a science summer camp, while another 30 or so were enjoying an award-winning technology camp that the library started last year. Other local residents were browsing for books and working on the computers. It was a typical summer day for a very busy library.
Standing in the middle of all the activity, library director Donna Murray admitted that she was shocked and dismayed that borough officials are contemplating withholding the financial support that it gives—approximately $37,000 annually—for any reason.
“That would hurt the library,” Murray said. “It would hurt the operations of the library. If you're talking about cutting our funding, you're talking about cutting programs that we can provide to the community. It would reduce the services that families use, and I think that's misguided.”
The Kennett Public Library is enormously popular with its users. In the month of June alone, 2000 students came to the library for programs. Murray said that participation in the library's programming is up by 31 percent over the last four years. The number of visitors has increased by 7 percent during that same time, and the number of items circulated has increased by 15 percent. All these figures defy national trends where patrons are visiting libraries less and less, said Susan Mackey-Kallis, the president of the library board.
But library officials have been criticized—by some in the community—for several major decisions over the last two years, ranging from the decision to build a new facility on property in Kennett Township to the library’s name change from the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library to Kennett Public Library. Additionally, the library board has been hindered by internal strife, with three members resigning this spring amid disagreements.
Fetick said that he attended a meeting last week that included other municipalities and concerned citizens, and there was significant concern about the library board’s ability to make decisions that are in the best interest of the community.
“The residents of Kennett Square, through our donation to the library, have a vested interest in the future of the library. With that in mind, I am requesting that Borough Council withhold any future donations to the library until council can appoint a borough representative to the library board,” Fetick wrote.
Fetick drew a distinction between the borough council being able to appoint a representative to the library board and the library board itself vetting a candidate who lives in Kennett Square to serve on the board.
Mackey-Kallis said that the borough does now have one representative on the board as Margaurita Garai was appointed to serve in June. She added that from her viewpoint Kennett Square Borough does not currently meet the criteria to have the authority to appoint a representative because the borough does not have a dedicated tax to provide stable funding for the library, nor does it contribute its “fair share” amount each year.
Kennett Square Borough's “fair share” level would be $44,000 annually, and this year the borough is contributing about $37,000, according to library officials.
Mackey-Kallis said that the library board would like for Kennett Square Borough to offer the “fair share” level of support so that the municipality would have the opportunity to appoint a representative.
Fetick emphasized that withholding the funding is not a punitive measure, but rather one that is aimed at ensuring collaboration between Kennett Square and the library board.
“A library is a valuable resource for our community and I want to protect it,” he said.
Fetick recommended that the borough participate in a task force with Kennett Township and other municipalities, as well as concerned residents, to “evaluate the library’s ongoing ability to meet the needs of our residents. The task force would be charged with ensuring that the greater community’s needs are being met with the current library services and future planning. Their independent study and possible recommendations will help guide us in planning for the future.”
When he made the request for borough council to withhold the funding, Fetick said that maybe council could consider the request at its next meeting on Monday, July 20.
Mackey-Kallis said that she hoped that library officials could meet with Fetick, borough manager Joseph Scalise, or other officials from Kennett Square to resolve the issue before the library's programs and services are jeopardized.