COOLBAUGH TOWNSHIP — Pocono Mountain Public Library Director Ann C. Shincovich appeared before the Coolbaugh Township Supervisors this month to explain why the library will be attempting to place a referendum on the November ballot to set the two special library taxes at ¼ mil each.
Citing advice from the library attorney, Shincovich said that the library believed that the 1994 and 2008 referendums, which each set a one mil library tax, are still in effect despite the reassessment. If applied to the reassessed rates, Shincovich said that would result in over three million dollars due from the township to the library. “We don’t think that’s fair,” she told the board, “we want to reduce that to one-quarter mil for each tax.”
In 1994, Coolbaugh property owners approved a one-mil library tax to be used for PMPL operational costs. In 2008, voters approved a second special one-mil tax to be used to finance the construction of the new library building in the township. That second tax ends in 2029 when the mortgage is paid off. The tax is applied to the county-assessed valuation of the real estate in the township.
As a result of the recent county-wide reassessment, those assessed values increased about four-fold. Following a reassessment, state law requires taxing authorities to reduce their tax mils to an amount that would net the township or agency not more than 110% of the taxes collected in the final pre-reassessment year. State reassessment law specifically includes special levies passed by referendum in the recalculation, such as the library tax.
When Coolbaugh prepared the budget for the first year under the new assessments, it calculated the millage for the library taxes to be 0.19 for each tax. The township solicitor has advised the board of his opinion that .19 mil is the current effective tax rate. Shincovich told the board that their lawyer believes the .19 rate would apply only in the first year after reassessment; thereafter, the rate selected by the voters in 1994 and 2008 would be reinstated.
Shincovich said that the proposed .25 mil would net the library $376,303.48 for each of the two levies. She said the construction levy is effectively paid directly on the mortgage, while the operating levy is required to be spent on that year’s library operations. According to her, the library has been operating a deficit budget of between $60,000 and $120,000 a year every year since 2010.
Based on the library calculations, the .25 mil rate, if approved, would amount to approximately $90,000 additional for the library. Using the US Census Bureau calculation of the median value of Coolbaugh Township homes in 2019 as $128,900, each year the average homeowner would pay a combined total of about $65 for the two library taxes. If the township solicitor is correct about the .19 mil rate being applicable, the increase to .25 would cost the average Coolbaugh homeowner about $16 a year until 2029, then $8 a year thereafter.
Shincovich noted rising costs and the library’s work to keep them under control. “We used to have 12 employees, now we have six,” she told the board. As other employers in the area have seen, labor costs are being pushed up with even fast food restaurants paying up to $15 an hour, the library expects to pay more for labor as then re-staff following the pandemic layoffs.
“I don’t care about any of that. There are people for whom that money is a meal. You have a Taj-Mahal size building there that isn’t the fault of the public. We have 21,000 residents of Coolbaugh to answer to – not all use the library.” —Supervisor Alma Ruiz-Smith
Supervisor Alma Ruiz-Smith that the library’s numbers failed to take into account the taxpayers who are on a fixed budget or who otherwise cannot afford to pay the extra $16 a year. Shincovich tried to point out to Ruiz-Smith all of the ways in which the library helps those residents, including the recent Chromebook lending program and services like free assistance in filing unemployment claims. “I don’t care about any of that,” Ruiz-Smith snapped, cutting Shincovich off, “there are people for whom that money is a meal. You have a Taj-Mahal size building there that isn’t the fault of the public. We have 21,000 residents of Coolbaugh to answer to – not all use the library.”
Shincovich noted that in 1996 an assessment was done to determine the size of the building needed to serve the community, which resulted in the design they adopted. She also noted that nearly all of the improvements to the building in the years since it was constructed have been funded through $1.2 million in grants Shincovich obtained, and not by the taxpayers. Shincovich said that the community room was heavily used by businesses and organizations in the community (the Coolbaugh supervisors met there during the pandemic when live meetings became possible) and that they are a polling station able to handle 4,000 voters while not interfering in the normal library operations.
Shincovich said she would appreciate the supervisors’ support of the referendum measure, but that the library board felt that they needed the referendum to legally reduce the applicable levy and would be proceeding with the referendum petition in Coolbaugh Township. A similar referendum will be presented to Mount Pocono Borough voters as they also help finance the library operations with their own original 1-mil levy for library operations. The Borough does not have the construction levy because Mount Pocono voters overwhelmingly rejected it in 2008.
The PMPL will need to collect the signatures of registered voters in the township and borough to place the measures on the ballot in November.