Talks between Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Public Library continue
● By Steven Hoffman
Kennett Public Library officials are considering changes to bylaws in response to issues raised by Kennett Square Borough and Kennett Township leaders in recent weeks.
Library director Donna Murray said on Monday that the library’s Policy Committee has been asked to review some of the bylaws, and the library board could vote as early as its September 15 meeting to amend these bylaws so that each municipality in the service area has the ability to appoint a representative to the library board.
Currently, the library board selects its own members unless a municipality earns the ability to appoint a member by either contributing at its “fair share” level or the municipality has a dedicated tax that is used to generate financial support for the library.
Four weeks have passed since the suggestion was first made for Kennett Square Borough Council to consider withholding its financial support to the Kennett Public Library until the borough has the ability to appoint a representative to the library board. Mayor Matt Fetick initially proposed withholding the funding at the July 6 council meeting because of the concerns that residents have shared with him about the direction of the library. Fetick said that one specific concern was that the borough did not have the option of appointing a member to the library board.
According to library officials, the borough fell short of contributing its “fair share” amount to the library and consequently borough council was not entitled to appoint a representative to the library board. When Fetick asked borough council to consider withholding funding until the situation was remedied, he drew a distinction between library board members who are appointed by borough council and those that are vetted by the library board itself.
The borough provides approximately $37,000 in financial support to the library, about $7,000 less than the annual “fair share” amount. In the immediate aftermath of the July 6 meeting, Murray said that she was very concerned that the borough would consider withholding funding because it would jeopardize the services and programs that the library provides to the community.
There has been widespread praise for the library's day-to-day operations—the programs and services that benefit the residents of the community. However, the library board itself has been hindered by behind-the-scenes strife, including the resignations of three members this year alone. Some of the library board's decisions, including the plan to build a new library on the Way's Lane property and the library's name change from the Bayard Taylor Memorial Library to the Kennett Public Library, have drawn criticism from some.
At the July 20 council meeting, a large crowd turned out to see if borough council would in fact vote to withhold funding. Based on the thoughts shared by a number of residents during public comment, the overwhelming feeling of the audience was that they wanted borough council and the library board to work together to resolve their differences.
While all the differences haven't been ironed out yet, talks between borough council and the library board continue. Borough council still hasn’t voted on the suggestion to withhold the funding.
Borough manager Joseph Scalise said that borough officials continue to have discussions with the library officials about the borough’s representation on the board.
Kennett Township officials have also made their concerns about the library board public, and the township’s board of supervisors supported Fetick's suggestion to form a task force to evaluate the library’s ongoing ability to meet the needs of the community.
Furthermore, Kennett Square officials have also had periodic discussions with library officials about potential sites for a new library in the borough.
“Those talks are ongoing,” said Scalise.
During public comment at Monday night’s council meeting, Kennett Square resident John Thomas suggested leasing the borough-owned Weinstein lot to the library for $1 a year on a long-term lease as a way to keep the library in the borough. The Weinstein lot has long been on a list of potential sites for the library. However, library officials undertook a comprehensive study of potential sites and ultimately concluded that the best site for the future home of the library is the property that the library already owns in Kennett Township.
Once the current issues are resolved, a capital campaign to raise funding to build a new library is expected in the not-too-distant future.