The Indian Valley Public Library, located in Telford, kicked off the new year with a $24,984 budgetary shortfall due to financial cuts made by Souderton ($8,710) and Telford ($16,274) boroughs.
“Now I am working toward defunding the Indian Valley Public Library ($70K ish) if they keep evangelizing for trans agenda and LGBTQ,” says a post on FaceBook, referring to a Bucks County councilman.
Funded by several Montgomery County municipalities including Souderton, Franconia, Lower Salford and Salford, the library is also funded by Telford, which straddles Bucks and Montgomery counties.
“It’s time for friends and users of our community library to stand up and protect and defend one of our most treasured local institutions before the Defund the Library crowd does any more damage,” wrote Richard Detwiler, treasurer for Souderton Area for All, or SAFA, in a recent Letter to the Editor published by the Reporter Online.
“The assaults on the library budget were stealth attacks that most of us who use and value the library didn’t know about until after the damage was done,” he wrote.
According to Detwiler, the Souderton library budget cut correlates with funding for the fire department, however other members of the community maintain that both borough councils pitted the fire department against the library and that neither fire company had requested increased funding.
Robert Jacobus, who was recently appointed to the Telford Borough Council, was asked why funds for the library were reallocated to the fire company.
“I don’t know how to respond to that because none of the information you presented is true,” he said. “As it was said in the borough council meeting, and it should be reflected in the minutes, that ultimately we’re trying to keep taxes from being raised.”
A review of the online 2022 agendas and meeting minutes for Telford Borough reflects no discussion about reducing funds earmarked for the library to keep taxes low.
In fact, information about library funding appears only once, in minutes for an October workshop, however there is no explanation as to why the cut was made:
“Emiline Weiss reported to Council that the finance committee has met several times to discuss the 2023 budget, the discussion of the meeting was to drop the mileage rate for the library and to put a line item in the budget for the borough contribution or reduce the mileage rate a ¼ percent added to the Borough General Fund.”
Minutes from a July 2021 meeting do, however, contain a discussion about LGBTQ materials at the library:
“Mr. Arnott commented to Council and Library Representative Wendy Leshinskie that he has seen several comments posted online showing concern towards the LGBTQ materials that were in the children’s section of the Library during Pride month. He asked if there has been demand to take the books out, and stated that the comments have not necessarily been against the materials, just concerns about the placement of them. He added that he wants to make sure the people in the Borough giving their tax dollars are heard.”
“We have a board member that goes to the meetings every month, they never alerted her that we were going to be cut in our funding,” said Marjorie Stern, the Director of Indian Valley Library about Telford Borough’s budget process. “So it’s a December meeting when they’re voting on the project is when she sees that we were cut.”
Detwiler concluded, “Neither borough council really shared what they were planning to do with their public constituency before they went ahead and did it.”
Jerry Guretse, Telford Borough’s mayor and president of the fire department, as well as John Taylor, a member of the Telford Borough Council, did not return calls from The Beacon.
Dan Yocum, Souderton’s mayor and an active member of the Perseverance Fire Company serving and located in Souderton, took to FaceBook to provide information about the library funding.
“It unfortunately feels like this conversation pits the Library VERSUS the Fire Company, but that is not the case. Souderton Borough sincerely appreciates BOTH organizations and the good work each does in our community,” he wrote.
Yocum was asked if he was aware that many in the community believe the reduced funding for the library is related to the anti-LGBTQ sentiment expressed in the FaceBook post.
“Yes and no. I agree with you that unfortunately, that does seem to be pervasive in the discussion because of issues I see happen at the School District,” he said. However, he does not believe that the Souderton Borough Council made any budget decisions that were homophobic in nature.
Indian Valley is not the only community library in Pennsylvania to experience recent funding cuts.
Ephrata Public Library in Lancaster County was made aware of a reduction in funding by the Akron Borough Council in November. Knowing about the cuts in 2022 allowed members of the community to rally at the December council meeting resulting in partial funding, as reported by Jade Campos of Lancaster Online.
Originally, Akron Borough Council claimed the funding cuts were needed for road projects, parks and sewer work however, “one member, Paul Swangren said “the library has an “agenda” that is not appropriate for the community’s conservative values, according to meeting minutes,” wrote Erin Negley of Lancaster Online.
Indian Valley and Ephrata have another similarity; books and curricula at schools in close proximity to both libraries have come under attack from far right conservatives and extremist groups such as Moms for Liberty.
A FaceBook post from Indian Valley Conservative Voice says “Stop hypersexualizing our kids on smut” and “Souderton had a very large amount of LGBTQ people show up in support of reinstating their original funding.” This messaging has community members wondering if the reduced funding has more to do with a bias against LGBTQ inclusivity versus increasing funds for fire departments or halting tax increases.
“Anyone with a library card can use our library, we never turn anyone away,” Indian Valley Library Director Stern said. “If you’re going to cut funding and you have legitimate reasons that you don’t have enough money, then work with that, but don’t cut funding because two years ago, our June Gay Pride displays really set them off in Telford, a few of the [borough council] members, and we never had anyone come here and complain to us.”
Instead, Stern remarked, many people expressed gratitude and said thank you for supporting my son, thank you for supporting our family and the community.
The February calendar for Indian Valley Library reveals a diverse array of events for every walk of life. Storytime hour for children, chess club, yoga, junior engineers, Black History Month presentations, photography along with book and bridge clubs are but a few examples of many community groups that gather at the library.
On Monday both Souderton and Telford Borough Council will hold meetings.
Telford’s meeting at 50 Penn Avenue begins at 7:30 p.m.
Souderton’s meeting at 31 West Summit Street begins at 7:00 p.m.