Bala Library: Expansion vs Renovation, and Now or Later?

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cscott's picture
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According to the FAQ posted yesterday, the cost of expanding the Bala Library is estimated at $3 - 4 million dollars over and above the necessary renovations (see question 16).

Coincidentally, $3 - 4 million dollars is comparable to the shortfall in charitable donations to the Lower Merion Library Capital Campaign ($2 million pledged, $5 - 7 million expected), which are an essential part of the library reconstruction project budget (~$5 million dollars in Capital Campaign funds are budgeted for library renovations according to the CIP).

 

$3 - 4 million dollars also happens to be the cost of the Penn Wynne Library renovation, which is scheduled last (2014 - 15) and is therefore in the greatest jeopardy.So what happens if we invest $3 - 4 million dollars above the cost of renovation to expand the Bala Library, and the additional $3 - 5 million dollars in charitable donations needed to fully fund the library renovation projects never materialize?

 

After Bala, the remaining library projects are all for essential renovations. For example, the Penn Wynne Library project entails ensuring that the library has adequate heat and air conditioning, and that it's accessible to everyone in our community. That's a far cry from the cafe and green roof that are being installed at Luddington or the additional 5,800 square feet of proposed space at Bala to "create a new entryway," "improve aesthetics" and provide "stroller parking" in the children's area.

 

So here's my modest proposal: switch the order of projects so that Bala is last. That way, we ensure essential repairs get done to every library (including Bala) and still have the option of expanding Bala if charitable contributions and/or township revenue forecasts improve.

 

If the renovation portion of the Bala project simply can't wait, then renovations should go forward without expansion, because our funding sources simply don't justify spending the additional $3 - 4 million dollars needed for expansion either this year or next. 

 

While aesthetics (and even stroller parking) is worthwhile, that should never come at the expense of needed repairs.

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LMT Observer's picture
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Agree, CScott.  

Thank you for doing the legwork (collecting and analyzing the relevant facts and details) and thought work (analyzing available information) on behalf of Lower Merion citizens.   

It is to be hoped that all of our budget-deciding Commissioners will stop by this blog and take the time to thoughtfully, and with an open mind,  review your points and arguments on behalf of Lower Merion citizens whom they serve.

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xf14ae's picture
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Stroller parking? Really? 

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Yep. When the architect was asked what all the space on the second floor was for, that was the suggestion.

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So we get a massive new Bala library with all sorts of empty space for millions of our tax dollars, while economic conditions caused state funding to dry up so we will have a 35% reduction in spending on books, a decreased loan period on materials, reduced number of magazine and newspaper subscriptions, no more specialized books, significantly reduced purchase of "core" materials, reduced replacement copies, no second copies of DVDs, and eliminated online database subscriptions - all while reducing or eliminating Summer Reading and One Book Lower Merion.

Even before the state funding dried up, the purchase of no new books, no new computer/internet workstations and no new study carrousels were planned with these millions of our tax dollars.

Same exact problem with Ludington, but to the tune of $9 million of our tax dollars.

Brilliant!

This helps explain why our taxes are going up 12.7% in a horrific economy where people are hurting.

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Brotherhood of Thieves ~ As we must account for every idle word, so must we account for every idle silence.

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Bala is in terrible shape and needs immediate remedial work.  The question is, could there not be a modest redesign at the same time, at, say,  half the cost of the proposed expansion/renovation?  This question was raised the last time the Board of Commissioners discussed the Bala Library in detail (March 2010), but, as usual, the Board majority wasn't interested in pursuing it.  It was anticipated that $1.1 for the Bala project would come from donations.   It is time to be more realistic about what the capital campaign is going to achieve.

It seems quite possible that Penn Wynne, Belmont Hills and Ardmore will end up as the starving orphans of this enterprise.  Ardmore has water damage under the roof and, despite the expenditure of over $150,000 in 2008, as of March 2010 was continuing to leak. 

 

 

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politeia's picture
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I have always said that I support our libraries. I have always stated we most certainly should take care of necessary maintenance and handicap accessibility.

Building these Taj Mahal libraries by increasing our taxes when services they provide are being cut by 30% is fiscal insanity and morally wrong when people are hurting and they could use the break.

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I don't think will be a popular idea, but I think the township should consider whether after renovating and expanding the two major libraries (Bala and Ludington) there is a need to continue operating the smaller satellite libraries.

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I think it would be disingenuous to make lavish renovations to the two large libraries and then close the smaller branches for cost savings.

Had the commissioners asked the question whether to spend the renovation budget on necessary repairs for all libraries or on major facelifts for the two biggest, but at the cost of closing all of the others I doubt very much that residents in Ardmore, Belmont Hills, Gladwyne or Penn Wynne would have supported the latter.

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Hugh Gordon's picture
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Ardmore, Gladwyne and Penn Wynne libraries were all founded independently (Admore's seems to be the oldest, started in 1899).    The Lower Merion Library System as we know it today didn't coalesce until 1960.   Each library is a separate independent entity with its own board of trustees.   The smaller libraries are resources in neighborhoods where not everyone has a car and they act as community centers in various ways.  It would be a shame if they were to fall victim to Ludington/Bala megalomania.  (Presumably same applies to Belmont Hills.)

I had to pay for a lost book at Gladwyne a couple of years ago.  I made out the check to the Lower Merion Library System.  They wouldn't take it, I had to rewrite the check to the Gladwyne Free Library.  I think closing these smaller libraries is a non-starter.

 

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politeia's picture
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Always appreciate your historical perspective, Hugh.

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It sounds to me that the libraries still do retain their independence, with  their separate boards and all.  Were the libraries formally consolidated at some point? Who owns the lots and buildings?

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Hugh Gordon's picture
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I haven't checked this but I believe that each library foundation owns its own building, except for Bala, which is a condominium owned by the Township and the French International School, and probably Ludington, which is most likely owned by the Township. 

The consolidation into the Lower Merion Library System involves staffing -- they are all Township employees, acquisitions of library materials,  which is done centrally through a library wholesaler though clearly each library has some independent discretion over what it acquires, the computer systems, probably purchase of heat and lighting etc.   The Township is responsible for maintaining the buildings. 

At this point the main function of the independent foundations is fund raising.  I was surprised to hear the other night that they routinely raise over $400,000 from donations, which is used for purchase of library materials; that appears to be, in fact, the largest source of funding for that purpose, even before the state subsidy was drastically cut.

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I also think there is merit in the suggestion made by someone at the last public meeting (can't remember who) that said turn the libraries back to independent operation.  Township can contribute a certain amount, but they make their own budget decisions, including those about renovations/expansions.  Most likely grandiose projects using endless pocketbook of the LMT taxpayer would be scaled back to something reasonable.

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Nice presentation by Mr. Scott tonight.  The CIP was approved as presented with one non-substantive tweak.   Some discussion of the Bala Library, which will be coming back for full discussion in February.  No signs of any flexibility at all, so I will predict right now that the full Bala Library expansion, however it is put forward in February, will be given final approval at that time. 

Items overrunning the budget are not seen as an issue at all; if the project was approved at any time in the past, it doesn't matter what it costs.   

Kind of a depressing evening, with an occasional worthwhile discussion mixed in.   Essentially a big waste of time.  They could have just opened the meeting, approved a motion to do whatever staff proposes, and adjourned.

 

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Looking at the Library Report of 2009 and statistics on its own web site, it appears to me that the Library Board and bureaucrats  not reported the actual number of users of the library leading to a tentative inference that the millions will benefit a very few actual users and that money spent is wildly out of proportion to benefit that the community receives. The Forgotten Taxpayer wonders why he and she has to pay for the services that only a few receive.

 

Would it be such a burden to ask each "registered borrower" to pay a $50 annual user fee? and ask actual users to participate in the "Renovation" which is far more than deferred maintenance which, as far as I know, has not been mentioned on the Library's web site.

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Bob,

Benefit a very few actual users? What are you talking about? 

There were more than 800,000 visits to LMLS libraries in 2009 according to the 2009 LMLS annual report. That's more than one visit per month per capita, and about the same per month per registered borrower. 

Now I realize that figuring out the number of "actual users" from the data provided requires that you do a little math, but I'll walk you through it.

If the number of visits per user and the number of visits per capita are about the same, then that means the number of users is approximately equal to the population of Lower Merion. That's NOT a very few actual users in my book. Quite the contrary.

It's also notable that there were 48 visits per hour -- about one every seventy seconds. The picture painted by the statistical data is consistent with what I see every time I go to the library: these are vital hubs of civic life in Lower Merion. 

All the more reason to insist that the BOC ensure sufficient resources to renovate all six of the libraries in the system before blowing $3 - 4 million dollars on unnecessary expansion of the Bala library.

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Library User Fee Proposal  $100 per registered borrower would be modest charge for library usage and allow The Forgotten Taxpayers who don't want to use the library to pay for expensive upgrades, improvements, expansions and renovations that they don't want, need or use. The Lower Merion Taxpayer will continue to pay annual $3, 000,000 for operations.

 

The simple question is: How many actual users? Not "registered borrowers"; not items borrowed; not turnstile visits; Actual users. This cannot be determined form the report becaus e the only reference is to "registered borrowers", an odd phrase and one that could be misleading. ies2010

Everyone who borrows a book has Library Card. How many cards were swiped is the number of actual users. Why is this number not simple to find?

The Report states "Circulation per Registered Borrower"  24.70 and 1,478, 050 were the items reported to have been borrowed by "registered borrowers" and so dividing 1, 478,050 by 24.70 gives 59, 840 "registered borrowers", not actual, individual users. If that is actual users, then why use phrase "registered borrower"”

But let us say that it is correct calculation of "actual users", and then what would be wrong in asking actual users to pay a monthly or annual user fee?  If we asked each registered borrower, we know this is about 59, 800 so if each paid $100 a year, that would be five million ninety eight hundred thousand $5, 9800,000.  In about four years, there will have been enough collected to pay for all the improvements, upgrades, expansions that the 'registered borrowers" could want.

Can we speculate because that number of actual users is very low? " Let us compare visits with number of actual, real people. Why is this so hidden? And items borrowed with the actual number of people visiting and borrowing and I think that would make my point. Maybe not, maybe it would support you but unless we have data, we can't tell. "What gets measured, gets rewarded" and we are NOT measuring the actual users.

Let me say again, there is no way, from the numbers given, to determine "actual users". To say that actual users is greater than population of Lower Merion seems counterintuitive. It could be right but I think not. Does it seem that close to 60,000 people actually used these libraries? Maybe. Who knows?  The simple, straightforward way, is to review the computer records of cards swiped when item borrowed. And yet, that was not done. Why not? And since not everyone qualifies to become a "registered borrower", that is, infants, for example, then it is apparent that Lower Merion Taxpayers are subsidizing people who don't pay taxes in Lower Merion. Well why not, you don't have to be a Lower Merion taxpayer to enjoy the Gateway Fountain and we don't want to be xenophobic.

If you don't mind, Wynnewoodie, could you drop the condescending tone?

 

 

 

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And since not everyone qualifies to become a "registered borrower", that is, infants, for example, then it is apparent that Lower Merion Taxpayers are subsidizing people who don't pay taxes in Lower Merion.

Yo, I hardly know what to say to that. You're angry that the township is subsidizing infants' entry into the library?

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My point is that infants are not 'registered borrowers'? and that it is highly likely that people who do not pay taxes in Lower Merion are using Lower Merion library. I wanted to know how many?

Why would I be angry if infants are brought into a library? Please explain.

 

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I'm sure I just don't understand what you were trying to say in the first place.  So here are some generic answers:

Infants don't pay taxes because they don't have jobs or own property.

People from neighboring townships can register to borrow at Lower Merions libraries, just as Lower Merion residents can register to borrow in other townships. I believe that is guaranteed under some kind of state law.

Similarly, people with driver's licenses from other townships can drive on the roads in Lower Merion and vice versa.

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Consider this too, Lexo:

Politicians win elections by kissing babies not taxing them.

Imagine: "I'm slapping an excise tax on that rattle, kid." "And a use tax on your pacifier." ROFL.

I think what you are referring to is called "Access PA" and it was funded by the State subsidy that is being taken away so the program is probably going away too.

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I think what you are referring to is called "Access PA" and it was funded by the State subsidy that is being taken away so the program is probably going away too.

Oh, so everything's totally down the toilet already? That's when Bob's ideas start to make sense. Once Lower Merion really does have the monopoly over it's library-going residents, that's the time to bring out the yearly usage fee.  Right. Obvious. Cash

(Man that's one cruddy looking circa 1995 website)

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Oh, so everything's totally down the toilet already? That's when Bob's ideas start to make sense. Once Lower Merion really does have the monopoly over it's library-going residents, that's the time to bring out the yearly usage fee. Right. Obvious.

I don't know for certain that the PA Access is going out the window but State library funding is being cut and I think Access is part of it.

Now bear in mind that the creative minds of government have another trick up their sleeve, this [url=http://www.lowermerion.org/Index.aspx?page=50&recordid=1512&returnURL=%2Findex.aspx%3Fpage%3D44]merger [url/] of LMT libraries into the Montgomery County Library and Information Consortium (MCLINC). (that title is quite a mouthful but is redeemed by the cleverness or "LINC", eh? I know it made me giggle. I wonder of that cleverness originated 'in-house' or Montco paid a consultant for it? Innocent

I think generally it's a good idea to prepare for the worst.

If you look carefully, and I know you do, just about every project and many processes that go on at the local level involve a grant or funding from above. And the chickens have just begun coming home to roost. Just like consumers who raided their home equity (and security) to live beyond their means, so has government at all levels lived beyond it's means. The sustainability of it is grinding to a halt. The squeeze is on since governments are reaching the upper levels of both taxation and borrowing.

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"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.":Gil Scott-Heron 1970 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGaRtqrlGy8

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McLinc is up and running as of Friday.  Now when you look up a book in the catalog, it will tell you how many copies are in the Abington, Pottstown, Upper Dublin, Montgomery County-Norristown etc.etc.  libraries as well as the more local ones.  A drawback of the system is that you think you've found what you're looking for in the Lower Merion Library System but it turns out the item is actually in Pottstown. 

Joining this consortium is saving our local system a lot of money on IT costs.  According to Chris Steckel speaking at a commissioners' meeting a couple of weeks ago, it pretty much makes up for loss of the state subsidy to that part of library operations.

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State Revenues available for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania General Fund for 2011-2012 are expected to be about $23 Billion. Last year's General Fund Expenditures were $28 Billion. Governor Corbett and the General Assembly will have the challenge of cutting FIVE ($5) BILLION Dollars in Expenditures.

There are 21 new Republican House members, at least ten of whom replaced Big Spending Democrats, including both Todd Eachus Democratic Majority Leader and Democratic Speaker McCall, and they were elected to cut spending. Many of the 21 are Tea Party. Rep Dwight Evans was demoted by his colleagues and southeast Pennsylvania has no representation in House Democratic Caucus. The Republicans have a 20 vote majority and the Tea Party caucus may well drive the agenda. The Republican Hacks are in leadership but the rank and file may be loyal to the voters who voted for less spending and lower taxes.

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bobguzzardi's picture
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I am enlightened.

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Library User Fee Proposal  $100 per registered borrower would be modest charge for library usage and allow The Forgotten Taxpayers who don't want to use the library to pay for expensive upgrades, improvements, expansions and renovations that they don't want, need or use. The Lower Merion Taxpayer will continue to pay annual $3, 000,000 for operations.

 That would change the point of a public library, which is to serve the public regardless of ability to pay. Your proposal is more in line with a private library, such as a university library fee for a non-student.

 

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I think there are more actual users than registered users. For instance, in my family of four, we typically only use one library card.  We are active users of the Bala Cynwyd library.  I read a lot of books and visit the library 2-4 times per month.  We also use the library to find books for school research projects, and to borrow DVDs for home use. When my children were small they visited the library weekly for story time and to borrow books.

I would also like to mention that as an active user, I support the library financially with donations and have done so for at the past 17 years we have been library patrons. I currently give over $100 per year to the BC Library not including late fees and reserve charges.

bob maybe you should spend a Saturday afternoon at the Bala Cynwyd library and see whether you still think that libraries are obsolete.

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bob maybe you should spend a Saturday afternoon at the Bala Cynwyd library and see whether you still think that libraries are obsolete.

If you go, Bob, be sure to give them your $100 contribution.

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To bc59 and LexoTime5

bc59 suggested to BobG:

maybe you should spend a Saturday afternoon at the Bala Cynwyd library and see whether you still think that libraries are obsolete.

LexoTime5, might you be having a "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose" experience reading BobG's comments on the topic of the Bala Library expansion. Observer is.

Remember, the SAC discussion about the Ludington renovation--a thread that BobG started in May of '09? http://www.saveardmorecoalition.org/node/3179/111-milllion-ludington-library-spending-kindle-or-borders-gift-cards-more-reading-more-peo

Then, it was suggested that BobG visit the Ludington library.  The idea was that a visit would give him some more realistic data than he was presenting in his comments about how libraries in Lower Merion are used. 

The hope at the time was that a visit would help enable BobG to re-evaluate his fundamental premise that libraries were obsolete--no longer needed--because Kindles had been invented. 

BobG said in that discussion: 

Lower Merion is spending $11.1 million on renovation of one in Lower Merion For this kind of money, the Township could buy everyone who uses the library a Kindle. Not only cost effective, for $11 million dollars, the Township, at retail, could buy 30,555 Kindles, for more than half the population of Lower Merion. There are about 23, 699 housing units in Lower Merion , so we could buy a Kindle for every house and apartment in Lower Merion and more people would have more access to more books at less cost and less impact on the environment.

Another statement of two foundational premises of BobG's argument against not only the need to renovate Ludington but also the need for libraries to continue to exist at all back then was:

It might be useful to find out whether there has been any determination that when the $11.1 million is spent whether anyone reads more. “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” What is the purpose of a library other than to encourage more people to read more for learning or enjoyment? Would not the “gift card option” achieve same result. 

[Note "gift card" reference was to a Border's gift card.   BobG's position was that libraries could be replaced by a gift card to Borders.]

During the Ludington discussion Bob said he visited Ludington as suggested. Any new information ("data") that BobG might have absored during the visit did not lead to revision of his position during that discussion.    

LexoTime5, is Observer's recollection correct?    Wasn't it determined during the extended SAC Ludington discussion that BobG's basic convictions (premises) about libraries were not subject to revision, even when he was provided information that clearly contradicted them?  Didn't other commenters decide that it was not worth the effort and thought needed to engage in a good faith debate with him on the topic? 

 

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Did I imply a proposal to eliminate government subsidized libraries? I was pointing out a comparison of cost effectiveness which you seem to have misinterpreted to be a radical privatization scheme. If I was unclear, let me iterate that the subject is $24,000,000 in planned expansion, upgrades and improvements, not currently existing operations which I support and, from time to time, actually use.

I was presenting a cost comparison. $24,000,000 buys a lot of iPads, Kindles, gift cards, etc pointing to the excessive spending at the libraries to accomplish the stated purpose of a library: to give moe people an opportunity to read more.

 Focus $24,000,000!!!!!!!  Who will pay? and is this spending achieving the stated purpose?

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LexoTime5, is Observer's recollection correct?    Wasn't it determined during the extended SAC Ludington discussion that BobG's basic convictions (premises) about libraries were not subject to revision, even when he was provided information that clearly contradicted them?

That's how I remember it too. But nonetheless... here we are again.

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Bob,

One of the major purposes of a public library is to lend out materials to people. In order for libraries to keep track of who has the materials they lend, they ask that people register for a library card. Once a patron registers, they are then permitted to borrow materials from the library, thereby becoming registered borrowers, which is a much more meaningful term to a library than the vague term "actual user" that you prefer for some reason. Do you have any evidence to suggest that these terms aren't synonymous?

Far fewer Lower Merion residents are licensed to drive (is it OK with you that the DMV calls those people "licensed drivers" rather than "actual users"?).

Should we levy a $100 "road usage" fee on each licensed driver in LM? How about $100 per vehicle? The latter might allow us to collect most of the ~$5.7 million dollar circulation budget described in the 2011 CIP.

Would you support that idea? 

 

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Great points, Wynnewoodie.  I want to be sure I understand correctly: The number of licensed drivers in Lower Merion is far fewer than the number of registered borrowers at Lower Merion libraries?  If that's so then by Bob's logic the road maintenance should be subject to budget cuts and user fees long before the libraries are.  Bob's been picking on the wrong target!  I'm sure there are those of us who would object to their tax dollars going toward subsidizing other people's driving habits and be happy not to have to pay for it. 

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Lower Merion libraries have a need for $24,000,000 to renovate and expand (see Ludington) and a modest user fee of $100 a year (less than 25 cents per day) seems a viable solution to the problem.

We pay a registration fee to Penn DOT to register vehicles. And we pay tolls when we use the  Turnpike, a user fee that maintains the Turnpike and is used for renovations and upgrades. We pay Gas Tax, another user fee. Delaware River Port Authority charges $4 (soon to be $5) flat user fee for use of Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges.

User fees are common sources of revenues for government. This is not a radical or extreme idea.

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Bob, you didn't answer the question.

Do you think Lower Merion should charge a $100 per vehicle fee to Lower Merion residents to maintain roads in Lower Merion?

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Trying to discuss the Bala issue with BobG, Wynnewoodie observed:

Bob, you didn't answer the question.

Wynnewoodie, might you be having a "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose" experience reading BobG's comments on the topic of the Bala Library expansion? Observer is.

During the Ludington renovation discussion, Observer observed on Sun, 2009-06-21 21:59:

BobG visited the Ludington library since starting this blog but his post yesterday indicates that the basic premise of his opening argument remains unchanged: No tax payer should be required to contribute taxes for something used by fewer than "X" percent of tax payers. Ditto for revenue from tax payers.

 (http://www.saveardmorecoalition.org/node/3179/111-milllion-ludington-library-spending-kindle-or-borders-gift-cards-more-reading-more-peo)

Observer, making an effort to discuss the issue with BobG starting from the terms of engagement that he set in that discussion to evaluate whether a Ludington renovation was justified, asked Bob:  

What is X? --the threshold percentage criterion of the premise? The question is important because BobG also requests statistics to better inform all on the Ludington renovation issue. If X, a key statistic to Bob's position, already was posted no need to even consider reading further. Please just tell me and also how to calculate it for purposes of the Ludington issue.

Observer also devoted a lot of (tedious) time to explicate various ways that X could be calculated, and asked Bob which way(Drunk he would endorse:

A few questions to Bob about X and how to most accurately and fairly calculate it for the Ludington issue: . . .

Bob never answered the question even though he had been arguing that X was a critical figure to his position.    

Here's another "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose" observation:   In the present discussion about the Bala library, statistics about users have been presented, statistics of a type that Bob asked for during the Ludington discussion.  But--Bob finds them flawed and uncompelling. 

Suggested conclusion:  

    It seems accurate to conclude at this time, after thousands of words at SAC with Bob on the topic of libraries, that Bob does not believe that  municipal public libraries, as the concept was developed and first implemented in the mid-1800s in the U.S. in Boston, should continue to exist in Lower Merion.   Further, the belief is immutable, not subject to revision even by information that addresses the basic premises of Bob's arguments.   

Last--and ironic--observation:   The effort to affect Bob's fundamental belief that libraries already are obsolete has the characteristics of the recent, major and well-justified efforts of many to provide information and ideas on budget and Capital Improvement Project cuts to the proposed 2011 budget and CIP to current members of the majority party of the Lower Merion Board of Commissioners.   

  

 

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Lower Merion libraries have a need for $24,000,000 to renovate and expand (see Ludington) and a modest user fee of $100 a year (less than 25 cents per day) seems a viable solution to the problem.

We pay a registration fee to Penn DOT to register vehicles. And we pay tolls when we use the Turnpike, a user fee that maintains the Turnpike and is used for renovations and upgrades. We pay Gas Tax, another user fee. Delaware River Port Authority charges $4 (soon to be $5) flat user fee for use of Benjamin Franklin and Walt Whitman Bridges.

"Modest user fees" add up quickly. A hundred here; a hundred there. That represents a lot of money for some people. Everyone's wages and salaries are depressed to begin with by an insatiable health industry that cannot manage to function without double-digit annual price increases. And then there are the copays that keep rising. And the increasingly prevalent requirement that workers fork over a portion of their already healthcare-depressed-wages directly to the health industry in order to supplement the amount that is being bled from their employer. But I digress.

The Turnpike was a poor but timely example to make your point. Until recently, the Turnpike was a self-supporting entity. That purity and separation has been corrupted by the shyster who is on his way out of Harrisburg so that now, Tunpike users are subject to annual increases and a portion of their tolls is to be siphoned off to pay for highways that are already being funded with gasoline and other taxes and fees. It could have been worse. That same silver-tongued, backslapping con man attempted to hold up users of I-80 for tolls, I-80 being a highway that was constructed and is maintained with federal tax dollars. Had the feds not held firm against such a scheme, it would have set a precedent and before long we would be paying tolls on interstates all over the country. As it stands, only those interstates that were toll roads when the interstate program came in were grandfathered in as toll roads.

Here is one of the methods the Tpke. Commission is using to 'cope' with it's new mandate:


New policy makes toll on Pa. Turnpike less apparent
By Paul Nussbaum
Inquirer Staff Writer

A trip from New Jersey to Ohio? $28.
A trip from Ohio to New Jersey? $32.30.

A trip on your Pennsylvania Turnpike ticket? Priceless.

That's the future for motorists on the turnpike, come Jan. 2.

Tolls are going up again. You already knew that. The difference this time is that cash tolls will increase three times as much as electronic tolls - and the price won't appear on your ticket.

The Turnpike Commission is printing tickets without prices to save money, as it won't have to print new ones every year when tolls rise, says spokesman Carl DeFebo.

Imagine if this catches on. Supermarkets could let shoppers discover the price of milk at the checkout counter. Gas stations could avoid the hassle of posting new prices every day or two. And the price of a Big Mac could be as secret as the recipe for its sauce.

The turnpike's hidden-price plan has critics leaning on their horns. The motorists' organization AAA "is concerned that this could prove confusing to motorists, especially cash-paying motorists," said Rick Remington, spokesman for AAA Mid-Atlantic. "They wouldn't know what they owe when they pull up to a toll booth."

State Auditor General Jack Wagner said he was "appalled" by the move and will ask the Turnpike Commission to reverse the policy.

But DeFebo said, "I don't believe it can be reversed," because new tickets have been printed and distributed. He said it costs about $280,000 to print a year's worth - 75 million - of the magnetic-stripe tickets, and the production process takes about six months because of bidding and security issues. Also, the turnpike threw away $50,000 worth of unused tickets last year, he said.

Annual toll increases were mandated by a 2007 law that required the turnpike to help pay for repairs on other state highways. That law envisioned tolls on I-80 as well to help defray those costs, but the federal Department of Transportation rejected the state's bid to toll that road.

Bridge tolls on the DRPA are far in excess of that necessary to maintain the bridges so they don't really qualify as 'user fees'. A portion of the take has been used to shower largesse on such projects as the arguably failed Kimmel Center, the sports stadiums and the heist of the Barnes art collection to the Parkway.
The Port Authority is a model for corruption and spendthriftiness.

Libraries are a core municipal service as are police, fire, sanitation, streets and parks. We already pay separately for sanitation. I would propose that fire protection, due to the horrendous cost of fire apparatus and decreasing voluntarism will be taxpayer supported in the not-too-distant future. User fees for fire?
Don't laugh. Recall Radnor's failed scheme to impose user fees on auto accident victims.

It's happening now in New York City with Bloomberg's blessing:

http://bit.ly/hNgcbb

When we start to pay user fees for core services it is a slippery slope and we must question where all the money goes from the property taxes we pay regardless. A large portion goes to 'master plans', grandiose development schemes (which are correctly the purview of private enterprise only), 'streetscaping', 'boondoggle fountains', designers, consultants, television stations that serve only those with cable/FiOS and can't even produce a YouTube on the web, and more.

If the government gets involved in these things at all (and I don't believe it should), it should only be if there is money left over after delivering all core services without double-dipping the taxpayers for user fees

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"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.":Gil Scott-Heron 1970 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rGaRtqrlGy8

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Compellingly argued, outtathere.  Thank you for the perspective:

When we start to pay user fees for core services it is a slippery slope and we must question where all the money goes from the property taxes we pay regardless. A large portion goes to 'master plans', grandiose development schemes (which are correctly the purview of private enterprise only), 'streetscaping', 'boondoggle fountains', designers, consultants, television stations that serve only those with cable/FiOS and can't even produce a YouTube on the web, and more.

Case in point:  Observer wonders how much it cost Lower Merion citizens for Township staffs' time and effort (e.g., Building and Planning Dept.) to work on, work up, and work with the City Avenue Special Services District for 2 1/2 years to help promote and realize the District's huge, commercially-focused, rezoning initiative even before Township-wide, public input was sought by either the Township or the District.

You also said:

If the government gets involved in these things at all (and I don't believe it should), it should only be if there is money left over after delivering all core services without double-dipping the taxpayers for user fees.

Thank you for introducing the concept of "core [public] services" to this Bala renovation discussion.

It reminds this observer that in the SAC Ludington renovation discussion, the concept of "public good" was introduced.  Commissioner Gordon used the concept during a meeting when discussing Ludington.  

BobG denied that public good is a valid concept.   His argument in the Ludington discussion against the validity of the concept of public good for evaluating expenditures of revenues collected from BobG's frequently invoked concept, "The Forgotten Taxpayer," was that public good failed to meet the criterion of being "quantifiable."   The preceding was consistent with BobG's heavy reliance on a statistics and numbers perspective to support his opposition to the Ludington renovation expenditures, and discount arguments in favor of it. 

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Did I imply that government libraries did not advance a public interest? Public literacy is a good thing. The focus on my comments is on $24,000,000 expansion, upgrades and improvements, not maintenance and repair, and not operating budget. My question is spending $24,000,000 effectively and efficiently advancing the public good. Attempting to quantify the benefit is useful. It is not determinative.

 

$24,000,000 is pulled out of the Lower Merion community by government decree. Is this good for the community. Is it not unreasonable to explore alternatives to increasing public literacy other than $24,000,000 in expansion, upgrade and improveents? For example, solely for purposes of comparison and not a policy recommendation, Netflix costs $8 per month or about 450,000 for every citizen in Lower Merion. Lower Merion lends out DVDs. How much does that cost compared to Netflix. Please, I am not suggesting Netflix replace the library. I am trying to make the point that $24,000,000 is excessive and not reasonably related to the purpose.

Because this is other people's money, there seems to be a reluctance to examine the cost benefit and alternative ways to acoomplish the purpose. One way or another, we are all paying for this $24,000,000. Shifting the burden from one resident to another does not change the cumulative, collective, communal impact. Keep spending without regard to cost is what has gotten Pennsylvania and US into the mess we are in. $24,000,000 is a lot of money.

 

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outtathere observed:

"Modest user fees" add up quickly. A hundred here; a hundred there. That represents a lot of money for some people.

which is an excellent observation. It may be further pointed out that a "modest user fee" of $100 represents more than the proposed +12.7% tax increase of many people, particularly those at the bottom end of the income/property value/rental scale, would pay.  So yet another demonstration of how "user fees" fall most heavily on those least able to afford it. This would represent a very sad barrier to entry of a supposedly "public" facility.  If low income people were being kept out of public libraries by their inability to pay, how quickly would we question why the township supports libraries at all, if they were made in any way exclusive.

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Excellent points. DRPA increased fees from $3 to 4$ dollars in 2008 and then from $4 to $5 dollars in 2011. DRPA is a government instrumentality wih monopoly control of PATCO and Delaware River bridges. The Lower Merion library system is, likewise, a government operated system although not a monopoly. So, the argument that it would raise fees unconscionably is well taken. The Turnpike Commission's fees, likewise, were increased well beyond rate of inflation. Governments can do that. Who can stop it?

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No  and, in addition, as far as I know, and I may be wrong, Lower Merion Township does not maintain roads. Penn Dot has that responsibility.

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Bob, you're wrong. The township highway division is responsible for rotomilling and repaving roads in LM. The LM highway division budget for 2011 is $5.75 million dollars.

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Thank you. I did not know that.

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To return to the issue of possible consolidation of libraries...I realize it is difficult for anyone to want to give up the idea of their own personal neighborhood library. However, just as we have paid through the nose for two new high schools while building one would have been more economical, we will continue to pay through the nose for our six neighborhood libraries.  With Ludington and Bala Cynwyd being expanded (Bala seems to be a foregone conclusion despite the discussion here) should we not seriously consider whether the cost of maintaining all of the 4 smaller satellite libraries is worth the benefit to the community?  For instance,  do we need a library in Belmont Hills when Bala Cynwyd is 5 minute car ride away?Do we need a Gladwyne library when Ludington is 7 minutes away?

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The better question is why do we need an additional 5,80 square feet of library at BC, and is that 5,800 square feet more valuable than having libraries within walking distance in more neighborhoods.

If it's a foregone conclusion that the BOC is going to do this, then it's time to revisit that conclusion because it's a bad idea.

Who cares how far things are by car. Kids don't drive. Have you ever tried to walk or ride a bike from Belmont Hills to the Bala Cynwyd library? Don't. It's unpleasant and unsafe. You certainly shouldn't ever allow any child to do this. Parents in Ardmore, Belmont Hills, Penn Wynne and even Gladwyne let their kids walk or bike to the library, even unsupervised, because it's safe. It gives kids independence. If we insist on infrastructure that demands automobiles, then we'll become slaves to our children's schedules and we'll have gridlock throughout our township. I see no reason to pay a $3 - 4 million dollar premium for that.

Beyond that, Gladwyne and Penn Wynne own their libraries. The township can't close them (although they can withdraw support). If the township pulls a stunt like that after extorting unnecessary expansions at Luddington and Bala, then there will be hell to pay. 

Perhaps we can institute a cafe tax at Luddington and a stroller parking fee at Bala to ensure enough money to complete the rest of the library renovations.

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How about Cheryl Gelber's suggestion that the smaller libraries be open 5 days a week, instead of 6,  on a rotating schedule, and maybe Bala and Ludington could be open 6 days a week instead of 7?  And have them open one hour later and close one hour later than they do now.

The smaller libraries are all well stocked and heavily used.  I think the point about being accessible without a car is critical.  In general the car culture is too dominant in Lower Merion for my taste.

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In general the car culture is too dominant in Lower Merion for my taste.

Amen to that.

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