Old Orchard Beach’s public library is due to run out of cash on May 9 and will close if town officials and the library trustees can’t agree on a plan for meeting payroll while preserving the library’s autonomy.

The town budgeted $225,000 to fund the Libby Memorial Library through the year, but has withheld the quarterly allotment that was due April 1 since discovering that library funds are missing. Authorities are investigating whether the person responsible is a former bookkeeper, who died soon after she left the position.

Town Manager Mark Pearson says he will not turn over money to the library for expenses, but instead will pay bills and payroll out of Town Hall.

“The investigation is over misappropriation of public funds,” Pearson said. “I want to be certain there is no further misappropriation of public funds and that the process is transparent and there is accountability.”

“My issue is not about … control of the library, it’s to make sure the town funds will go to the intended purposes,” he said.

Lee Koenigs, the library’s interim director, and Jerome Plante, chairman of the board of trustees, say they are happy to have the town handle the library’s finances. But they insist that their bylaws require them to have a written agreement that ensures their independence.

“The town can act as our bookkeeper, but it has to be very clear they have no other authority on where the money is spent and what the money is spent on,” Koenigs said. She said that failing to get assurances in writing would violate the library’s bylaws.

Libraries are often different from town departments, which are overseen by the town manager. It is a distinction that evolved generations ago as library supporters sought to keep the institutions independent of political forces.

“They were set up initially this way 50 to 80 years ago so the town fathers had no input on the collection,” Koenigs said. “This was during the civil rights and suffragette movements.”

“All knowledge needs to be represented regardless of religious affiliation or sexual orientation,” she said.

Library patrons are being told that they should be prepared to return all materials by May 9 — the day the library runs out of money.

“I really try to stretch things as skinny as possible. We’re out of paper, almost out of ink. We can’t buy books,” Koenigs said. But paying the two full-time and three part-time staff members is the critical piece, she said.

Pearson says there’s a simple fix: have the employees fill out paperwork with the town’s human resources department and get their checks from the town, paid out of funds budgeted for the library.

He has offered to draw up a town warrant for the expenditures that would be approved by the library’s trustees.

But any agreement the town makes establishing a formal relationship with another entity, like the library board, needs approval from the Town Council, not him, he said. Pearson said the proposed agreement has nothing to do with meeting the library’s payroll.

“They’re trying to politicize this to gain support from the public that the library is being shut down by the town,” he said.

The library’s ability to stay open could hinge on a meeting between the Town Council and the library’s trustees, planned for next week but not yet scheduled.

Town Council Chairman Robert Quinn said he is trying to put the meeting together in time to avert a shutdown.

“We have to be able to sit down with the library folks, find some middle ground so they can feel assured they’re not threatened in their ability to run the day-to-day operations of the library, choose the books they want to have and the other issues that surround their running of the library,” he said.

Plante, of the library board, is optimistic.

“We need to get together and need to resolve any differences, real or imagined, within days,” he said. “I’m hopeful we can get a meeting before that and there can be a consensus of sorts if everybody works together.”

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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