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  • Mamaroneck Observer

Library Asks for Help

By Kathy Savolt -

Ellen Freeman, President of the Mamaroneck Public Library Board, quietly stood before the Board of Trustees and asked for help. In an hour-long discussion at the April 10th Work Session, Ms. Freeman, Executive Director Jennifer O’Neill, and other members of the Library Board described the current financial situation of the Library, stressed how vital the organization is to the community and asked that the Village lend the Library a total of $1.4 million.

Before she got to “the ask,” Freeman reminded the Village Board that, like them, the Library Board is made up of civic-minded residents who are all volunteers. She spoke about the five-year strategic plan the Library Board developed and was implementing. Under this plan, the Library expanded outreach to traditionally underserved residents. She reminded the community that the Library was the first area Library to reopen during the pandemic shutdown and was there for the community after Hurricane Ida.

Freeman described how, in January 2023 when they discovered financial information had been falsified, they felt betrayed by a long-time employee – one whose mother had been a Library Trustee. Freeman said, “The current year Library budget had been built on bad information.” She then asked for a short-term loan.

The Library is a special taxing district established by the New York State Legislature in 1991. See HERE. Under this legislation, the Library has no legal authority to borrow monies and therefore cannot “borrow” money from the Village. The Village of Mamaroneck does have authority to act on their behalf and has done so in the past, most notably borrowing $12.7 million for the Library renovation. To respond to the Library’s request for help, the Village would have to issue Tax Anticipation Notes (TANs) on behalf of the Library but only up to the approved Library budget. In doing so, the Village would be liable for the debt if the Library was unable to meet its financial obligations. The same is true for the current outstanding debt.

Specifically, Freeman asked for $300,000 before June 1, another $850,000 before September 1, and $261,000 before January 1, 2024. Freeman said, “she appreciated their sympathetic consideration.”

During the ensuing discussion, the Mayor and Trustees tried to get answers about what happened. Questioning the Library Board’s oversight, Mayor Murphy asked if they had reviewed the audited financial statements. Freeman responded that they hadn’t seen this year’s and became concerned when questions were not answered by the former Business Manager.

The budget passed in December 2021 (current fiscal year) was based on false information about the Library’s reserves. Thinking that the reserves fluctuated between $3 and $5 million, the Library Board voted to use some of those reserves to keep the tax increases low during the pandemic. They did the same for the December 2022 budget vote – a budget that goes into effect June 1, 2023.

Apparently, the Library Board never saw bank statements and the reserves had been emptied. The enabling legislation clearly states that the Treasurer of the library district “shall be the custodian of all funds of the Library district.” The most recently elected Treasurer resigned when the problem came to light and the position has not been filled. As the forensic audit and investigations continue, Freeman avoided any specific numbers on the advice of Counsel according to someone with knowledge of the situation.

Freeman reported that the Library has insurance and expects to get some monies back along with legal and accounting fees. She also stated that the Library is working with the County District Attorney, and they anticipated court involvement, including a possible civil case. These processes will take a long time and the Library needs funds now.

Members of the Board of Trustees continued to press for assurances that the Library would be able to meet its financial obligations. Freeman and Library Executive Director Jennifer O’Neill asserted that they have made budget cuts where they could but that 90% of the budget could not be cut. They indicated all current staff salaries and benefits cannot be touched. They have frozen 4 unfilled positions – 2 full–time and 2 part-time. They closed the teen room, cut back on book purchases, and stopped renewing magazine subscriptions. The Library’s Centennial celebrations must continue due to contractual obligations. Freeman mentioned that donors have stepped up to keep certain programs funded.

Both Freeman and O’Neill spoke about how dedicated and hard-working the Library employees are and how hard this situation has been on them, especially as the Library celebrates its Centennial. Freeman described how the independent forensic auditors were still at work and that they would advise the Library how to establish new procedures and protocols to ensure fiscal oversight and transparency. O’Neill reminded everyone that this problem was “one employee and one line in the budget.”

The Village Board continued to express concerns about the Library Board’s oversight, the availability of reliable figures, and the liability to Village taxpayers if the Library cannot pay its debts. In response, newly elected and seated early Library Trustee Ellen Hauptman offered to send the Board the new financial protocols and the now-monthly financial reports to the Library Board. Hauptman is also a member of the Village Budget Advisory Committee. That offer seemed to satisfy the Board of Trustees. However, they urged the Library to make all information fully public as the Library must win back the trust of the community.

As the discussion turned to the next steps, Trustee Young asked what would happen if the Library did not receive the $300,000 by June 1 and the response was that the Library would close.

Village Clerk-Treasurer, Agostino Fusco, pointed out that issuing tax anticipation notes involved a process and they might not have the funds by June 1. To expedite the matter, Mayor Murphy asked Freeman to submit a formal, written request to the Board of Trustees for the issuance of the notes. Furthermore, the Board of Trustees has a publicly noticed meeting for April 17 for budget purposes and they agreed to continue discussions at that time.

Watch the discussion HERE starting 1:00.

Editor’s Note: Two members of The Mamaroneck Observer’s Advisory Board are also elected volunteer members of the Mamaroneck Public Library board. Neither of them was consulted or participated in the preparation of this article.


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