January 16, 2013

Trustees: Old Orchard library needs cash to survive

Town councilors express support and will address the issue at their Feb. 5 meeting – if not before.

By Gillian Graham ggraham@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

OLD ORCHARD BEACH – The Libby Memorial Library will close without an immediate infusion of cash, trustees told town officials Wednesday night.

click image to enlarge

The Libby Memorial Library in Old Orchard Beach

Gregory Rec / Staff Photographer

The library director and board of trustees appeared before the Town Council to request an additional $75,000 to cover operating expenses through the end of June. They also asked that autonomy be returned to the board of trustees.

The town took over the library's payroll and accounts-payable functions in June after an investigation showed a former library bookkeeper embezzled about $140,000 over a six-year period.

Police determined Linda Jenkins took money from the library beginning in 2006. She died of cancer March 24, the day after town and library officials were notified by a bank about irregularities in a library account.

Libby Memorial Library is owned and funded primarily by the town, but its board operates independently.

"There is just not enough money at this time to continue operating the library," said Mary Ann Kotros, president of the library trustees.

Library Director Lee Koenigs said the library is "woefully underfunded" with $185,000 allocated by the town for fiscal year 2013. That's a $65,000 reduction in the budget from previous years, according to library treasurer Doris Harris.

The library had requested more than $241,000 for fiscal year 2013.

Town officials have said they believe Jenkins padded previous budgets so missing money would go unnoticed. The current budget was developed by town staff.

"The budget may have been padded, but not by $65,000," Harris said. "We're between a rock and a hard place."

A spending freeze is in place and the library has about $19,000 to cover operating expenses through the end of June, Harris said. The library this year spent $14,000 in unbudgeted legal fees to get its 503c status reinstated by the IRS and had to make emergency repairs to exterior lights.

Koenigs said the library incurred other extra fees when the town paid bills late.

Town Council Chairwoman Sharri MacDonald asked Koenigs and the trustees to provide the Town Council with a breakdown of the budget lines for which the library needs additional funding. MacDonald said the council will address how to help the library at its next meeting, Feb. 5.

"We're going to fix it," she said.

Councilors expressed support for the library, but several questioned what sections of the budget were inadequately funded.

"There's no one on this council who wants to see the library close," said Councilor Michael Coleman, noting the town has a "fiduciary duty to ensure funds are spent as intended."

Councilor Robin Dayton said the council still has time to discuss how to help fund the library before it closes its doors, reduces hours or cuts staff hours.

"We're not falling off a cliff here," she said.

But Koenigs said the financial issues need to be addressed immediately. The library could go through its remaining $19,000 within a week, she said.

"We are falling of a cliff and we're falling off immediately," she said. "The Town Council should want the library to be funded appropriately. You should want it to be a showpiece, not an afterthought."

MacDonald also suggested library and town staff work together, to give library officials access to the town's financial system, and that trustees give the council regular updates.

MacDonald said it is possible the issue could be taken up at a special meeting before Feb. 5.

 

Staff Writer Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@pressherald.com

 

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