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Lancaster County, Pa. town finds compromise on local library funding

After months of debate, Akron will continue funding Ephrata Public Library.

  • Brett Sholtis
Akron Brough Council President Nathan Imhoff, center, discussed options to fund Ephrata Public Library at a public meeting Dec. 12, 2022.

 Brett Sholtis / WITF

Akron Brough Council President Nathan Imhoff, center, discussed options to fund Ephrata Public Library at a public meeting Dec. 12, 2022.

After months of spirited public discussion, a borough in Lancaster County will provide some funding to its local library — though less than in previous years.

Akron Borough council voted 4-3 to endorse council president Nathan Imhoff’s plan to pull $10,600 from its surplus fund to support Ephrata Public Library. 

That’s 53% of what it gave the library last year — a number that Imhoff says represents the percentage of Akron residents who have active library cards. 

Imhoff said the council will consider giving the library more money in 2023 after reviewing its finances. He also plans to tour the library to answer questions councilmembers raised about how the money is spent. 

“I want to understand,” Imhoff said. “I want to learn. If there’s anything specific that we can say, hey, we want to support you on this, I think that seems like a fair approach.”

The money is a tiny fraction of the borough’s budget, and also a small portion of what the library needs to operate. But over the past two months the council’s plan to cut it from the budget became a flashpoint for discussions around inclusivity and the role of a library in a small community. 

With the town of about 4,200 people facing increasing infrastructure costs — partly due to a collapsed sewer line — the council was looking to trim its $1.9 million general expenditures to avoid raising taxes. 

Brett Sholtis / WITF

Akron resident Deborah Laws-Landis voices her support for funding the library at a meeting on Dec. 12, 2022.

But after councilmember Paul Swangren Jr. said in October that he wasn’t sure the library “would align with conservative values,” people poured into public meetings to let their values be known. 

At the meeting Monday night, Swangren stood by some of his earlier statements, saying he didn’t support funding The Northern Lancaster Hub, a library program that “was created to fill the unique social service needs” of people in two local school districts, according to its website.

“Is our money going to that?” Swangren said. “We don’t know.” 

Councilmember Bonnie Young said she shares those concerns — but she still voted to support funding the library. 

“I’m just so conflicted, because I hear what you’re all saying, and I’m in agreement with a lot of what you’re all saying, but then I start to think about the children,” Young said. 

That’s what led councilmember Randall Justice to vote yes as well. 

Brett Sholtis / WITF

Akron Borough council member Randall Justice says he supports funding the library because it’s important for economically disadvantaged people. At left, council member Paul Swangren, Jr. At right, Council Vice President Justin Gehman.

“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 go get cassettes to listen to stories. And so I think about children, but I also think about economically challenged folks.” 

Residents at the meeting cheered the council’s vote, even as it represents a lower level of support than in past years. 

Dennis Stauffer, who lives in Akron, said he hopes the council will add more funding to the library to bring it closer to the amount the borough usually provides. 

“Obviously I’m disappointed that we couldn’t get the whole thing turned around, but you take the deal you can get.” 

Resident Deborah Laws-Landis said she appreciated the civil dialogue among community members, and she’s glad that the council found a way to provide some funding to the library. 

To meet budget goals in the future, she’s urging the council to review all taxpayer-based donations — to places such as the Historical Society of the Cocalico Valley and Ephrata Recreation Center — and make spending cuts consistent across line items.  

“Let’s try to be as fair and as transparent as we can,” Laws-Landis said. “And I’m hoping that the library gets fully funded.” 

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