By Elizabeth Perry
The Coraopolis Memorial Library may cut ties with the borough to become a separate nonprofit entity.
Council Member Allison Marine said the idea is in the early exploration phases and she, along with other members of the borough council, need to learn more about the initiative before making any decisions.
“This was just the first step,” Marine said.
Amy Gilligan, finance director for the Allegheny County Library Association, presented to council on Nov. 2 about the prospect of separating.
Gilligan discussed what the benefits and drawbacks would be in transforming the library into a nonprofit. The county’s library association is a federated system of libraries and a conduit for funding from the state which provides consulting services as well as accounting services on an opt-in basis. Coraopolis already participates in ACLA.
Separating and becoming an independent nonprofit would open up new funding opportunities for the entity, Gilligan said.
The Penn Hills Library separated from the local government after they were closed down at the beginning of the pandemic. Gilligan said libraries that are independent entities had protection from such closures in the event that a municipality would no longer be able to fund them.
One major disadvantage Gilligan made clear was that currently all library employee payroll and benefits are currently set up through the borough. Additionally, the library would require a separate audit if it were to become a nonprofit.
The details of a memo of understanding would determine how involved the borough would remain in the running of and financial support of the library.
Marine called Coraopolis’ library “a jewel for our community,” and said she wanted to proceed cautiously with any future decisions concerning the institution.
Council member Edward Pitassi is part of the library committee and said Gilligan was the one who brought the idea to the council’s attention about two months prior to her presentation.
Pitassi said the library board was interested in the idea, but they hadn’t made any decisions about the possible switch.
“All of us are at ground level,” Pitassi said.
Penn Hills has 630,000 residents, whereas Corapolis has about 6,000, and Pitassi wasn’t sure a community the size of the one he represents would benefit from a library not supported by the borough.
Currently, the board provides the library about $100,000 a year, though this fluctuates. According to Borough Manager Ray McCutcheon, the library received $116,000 this year which is half of its budget. The remaining $100,000 comes from RAD funds and state money apportioned through ACLA. Very little of the budget comes from individual donations.
Many people who work at the library are retired or have other jobs to supplement their income, Pitassi said. None of the librarians working are full-time, except Mary Elizabeth Hampe, the current library director. Hampe is a former school teacher.
“She even taught my kids. The community loves her. She's very active in trying to take care of everybody,” Pitassi said.
Hampe said she was not involved in the decision-making process regarding the possible separation and had just recently heard about the idea from Library Board President Keith Ricketts.
“My sense of doubt is do we have a strong enough board in place?” Council Member Dave Pendel said.
Pendel worries if the connection gets cut with the borough supporting them the library isn’t in a strong enough position to become a separate entity.
“The burden of their success is directly in their lap, and they lose that lifeline to the board,” Pendel said.
He said he was “really kind of in the middle,” and thought the weighty decision warranted more discussion.
Amy Anderson, ACLA CEO, said the library would not be cut off from funding, unless that is spelled out in the agreement they might reach with the municipality through a Memorandum of Understanding.
The majority of nonprofits do not directly provide salaries, Anderson said, and the borough has the option to tailor the agreement for the needs of the area.
“We would hope the municipality would still provide funding to the library. I can’t speak to what their goals and plans are,” Anderson said.
At this time the building itself belongs to the borough, McCutcheon said.
“The library is a huge asset to the town and we would hate to do anything to lose it.
We’re not going to make any quick decision,” McCutcheon said.