The book will be closed earlier than expected for Lower Saucon Township residents who use the Hellertown District Library.

In a “mandatory notice” this week, the library board told the Lower Saucon Council that it plans to cut the town’s library services starting Jan. 1.

A 10-year agreement between the two communities and the library called for the deal to run through the end of 2023, but a long-running funding dispute sparked by a majority of City Council members has forced the library board to seek state guidance.

An Oct. 5 letter to the library from the state Department of Education, which was reviewed by The Morning Call, gives the library “special permission” to remove the township.

“This means that … Lower Saucon will be considered an unserved area,” said Mark Sullivan, district library consultant.

Sullivan said libraries can sell their membership cards to people who live in underserved areas, but they don’t have to. Ken Salt, Hellertown library board president, said the board hasn’t decided it’s an issue for township residents, who make up about two-thirds of the library’s patrons.

“We appreciate our patrons,” Salt said. “It’s too bad the township doesn’t want to fund us properly.”

Lower Saucon lawyer B. Lincoln Treadwell, who was negotiating for the township, did not return messages Friday. However, an attorney hired by the township, Michael M. Miller, wrote to the Department of Education to appeal the state’s decision.

“The residents of the township have invested heavily in the library and deserve library services,” Miller wrote.

The library at 409 Constitution Ave. in Hellertown serves both the borough and township. But in January, the Lower Saucon board voted to give the library only $50,000, about half of the library’s budget request. Some board members expressed concern about the library’s financial health, but library officials said they were willing to provide Lower Saucon with any information.

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Since January, Lower Saucon has been looking for another property, including the South Lehigh Public Library, where it has offered another $50,000. But library officials were reluctant to accept the money for Lower Saucon, arguing it would mean additional costs and staff.

In a public statement earlier this month, Bruce Eames, president of the South Lehigh Public Library, said his library should not be at the center of the controversy, but “the saga continues.”

Many township residents fought the council to provide funding to continue Hellertown, arguing that the cancellation of services would be devastating to patrons who use the neighborhood library. And Councilwoman Priscilla deLeon was the only member of the five-member council who pushed to stay in Hellertown.

Lower Saucon intends to increase its library funding by more than $50,000 to $160,000 next year, according to budget documents. It also offered to pay residents up to $40 for a “non-resident fee,” according to the documents.

The library received $75,000 in Hellertown’s emergency rescue plan in February and has been operating and serving both communities since the original plans to cut off Lower Saucon Township by Feb. 28. The library was also waiting on a $50,000 state grant received in June from state Sen. Lisa Boscola, R-Northampton.

Lower Saucon won’t be the only community underserved. Four municipalities in the Northwest School District are not covered by the library, Sullivan said. Freemansburg, which was owned by the Bethlehem Area Public Library, has not been owned in years. But Freemansburg residents have access to Hellertown library cards.

Morning Call reporter Anthony Solomone can be reached at