By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
LONGPORT – The Longport Library Board of Directors Thursday, Feb. 15 asked the Board of Commissioners to consider approving a library expansion at Borough Hall.
Library board member Dolores Wilson said the board sent a letter asking the governing body to approve a library expansion on the second floor of the historic brick building to use as a meeting space for library programs.
More space is needed to accommodate enhanced library programs including concerts, film screenings, author visits and educational programs. Some programs are currently offered in Commission Chambers, but they require library staff to rearrange tables and chairs to accommodate the programs.
Wilson said library board has considered several options for expansion, but using the second floor of the front part of the building would be the least expensive option.
“The first thing we need is for mayor and commissioners to decide if they would even entertain moving the people upstairs so we can have the space,” Wilson said. “We don’t want to bring in an architect to discuss how we are going to do that. We have ideas, but we need to know first if we can have that space.”
Mayor Nicholas Russo said the U.S. Postal Service will be vacating its current home on 27th Avenue, likely at the end of June, and the borough may want to ask the Postal Service, which serves approximately 800 full-time residents, to relocate to a space in Borough Hall.
“As of now, we have gotten no feedback. It’s a longshot,” he said.
Port Republic went through the same thing and wasn’t able to keep its Post Office, he said. “We need to digest this a little.”
Adding library space on the second floor of the three-story building would displace the Finance and Solicitor’s offices, which would need to be relocated elsewhere in the building.
“We would need to find a spot for the people working up there,” Commissioner Dan Lawler said before asking how much the expansion would cost.
“It could approach $1 million. We would have that money. And that is the least expensive way to proceed,” Wilson said.
Other options would cost between $1.5 million and $2 million, she said.
In addition to meeting space, the expansion would include a kitchen and elevator to comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act.
The library conducted a survey of the community’s needs, and those who responded requested additional programming space, Wilson said.
The makeover could take five to six months with no inconvenience to library patrons and Borough Hall visitors and would not change the exterior of the building.
The commissioners agreed that since abandoning the Atlantic County Library System in 2016, Library Director Ricky Gerhardt has done “an amazing job” expanding services and programming. Gerhardt said public participation in programs in January had increased four-fold since last year, and that those participating in summer programs doubled from 2021 to 2022.
Russo, who is a member of the library board, suggested Wilson share architectural drawings and plans with borough engineer Ed Dennis Jr. to determine the feasibility of the expansion and where to locate an elevator.
“We are happy you are considering it and that we can move forward,” Wilson said.
After a failure of the HVAC system in August 2019 caused mold to develop in Commission Chambers and the Centennial Room on the second floor rear of the 100-year-old former Betty Bacharach Rehabilitation Hospital for Children, the borough spent more than $500,000 to remediate the mold problem. At one point, the commissioners discussed the possibility of replacing the entire structure, but they never moved forward with the investigation. Today, the Centennial Room remains gutted.
The library’s budget for 2023 tops $808,000, with an estimated $845,000 remaining in surplus. Property owners pay library taxes based on a state formula.
Following a public referendum in 2016, the borough agreed to leave the Atlantic County Library System in favor of starting its own municipal public library. At the time, Longport was paying $623,000 in Atlantic County library taxes, but according to Longport officials, running the Longport branch only cost the county $280,000. The commissioners agreed the borough could run its own library with enhanced programming at a lower cost to taxpayers.
State regulations require municipalities to collect the full library tax based on the state formula during the first 10 years of forming a municipal library. While the municipality can spend library tax revenue to support the library, any funds remaining in an escrow account after 10 years can be used by the municipality for any purpose or returned to taxpayers in the form of tax relief.
As property values increase, so does library tax revenue. In 2022, the borough collected $706,366 in library taxes, up $53,539 from the prior year based on increased assessments. For 2023, the borough will collect $808,023 from taxpayers.
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