By NANETTE LoBIONDO GALLOWAY
LONGPORT – After members of the governing body at a recent Board of Commissioners meeting seemingly declined a library expansion at this time due to other pressing issues, members of the community turned out Wednesday to advocate for continued programs at the Longport Public Library.
Resident Betty Deveraux was first up during the public comment period saying that she feels “more connected” to the community because of the programs being offered by the library since it separated from the Atlantic County Library System.
Janice Carson said the programs offered at the municipal library “exceed those of other communities especially during the winter months.”
“Since we are on our own, it feels more like a community and not just a library,” Fran Kenny said.
All three commissioners said they support the library and the work of Library Director Ricky Gerhardt, and that establishing its own municipal library was successful.
Mayor Nicholas Russo said just a fraction of taxpayer dollars that were sent to the Atlantic County Library System were being used to operate the Longport branch, but since the borough library was formed, residents have more opportunities than just borrowing books.
Gerhardt commended the Library Board for its work ensuring the library offers informative programs and spends taxpayer dollars efficiently according to state law.
“Library law is cumbersome,” Gerhardt said. “State statutes dictate the formula to fund libraries.”
Gerhardt encouraged members of the public to attend Library Board meetings to learn more about how the library is financed.
Property owners pay library taxes based on a state formula that requires municipalities to fund public libraries at a tax rate of $.003 annually based on total assessed valuation. As ratables increase, so does the amount of library taxes collected.
Funding an expansion amid other pressing issues, such as reducing flooding, replacing galvanized steel water service lines and a potential reassessment or revaluation in the next year or two, will be challenging. Library patrons want more space to enjoy a myriad of program being offered by the library, they said.
“The biggest challenge we have is our small footprint,” Russo said about finding more space for the library.
Since the borough does not own any vacant land for building a new library, the only possible location is at Borough Hall, which at 100 years old is in need of constant rehabilitation.
Russo said the borough could move forward with a library expansion on the second floor of historic Borough Hall, which once housed the Betty Bacharach Home for Afflicted Children.
Russo said the borough is considering using half of the space available in the Centennial Room for the library with the other half reserved for the Building Department.
“We are 100% behind the library,” Commissioner Dan Lawler said, noting that prior discussions may have led residents to believe the commissioners were against the expansion.
“There’s no question we are for the library,” Commissioner Jim Leeds said.
However, he would like to see a schematic prepared by an architect or the borough engineer to ensure there is ADA accessibility.
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