Wearing big smiles, Mamaroneck Library officials walked out of Village Hall relieved that the library will stay open through the summer and for the foreseeable future, after village government leaders voted to approve an emergency financial arrangement to save the library from shutting down.
The library, voted recently as “Westchester’s Best” in a magazine survey, faced a shutdown deadline of June 1 after it was discovered its entire budget was based on bogus financial data. Restricted from obtaining loans and with a $1.4 million deficit, the library found itself in financial crisis.
“I’m feeling relieved but it’s a huge responsibility at the same time…knowing that we now have to cut budget more, make sure that we stay on pace to pay back what have, so this is not over. What I envision with (a new budget committee) is that in three years we will be on a steady course,” said Ellen Freeman, President of the Library Board of Trustees.
Last month, the library’s long time business manager was suspended, then resigned after undefined “irregularities” were discovered. It was then discovered that the entire operation, with an annual budget of roughly $3 million dollars, had been running on false financial information for years. Library officials reported the irregularities to Mamaroneck Village Police and the Westchester District Attorney and went to the Village Board of Trustees for help. The library is operated independently, not overseen by village government, and restricted from obtaining loans leaving extremely limited bailout options.
On Monday, while patrons browsed and borrowed books, directly across the street at Mamaroneck Village Hall, library board members waited to hear if they would be allowed to borrow money to keep the library open.
After wrestling with legalities, costs, risks, and financial oversight, the five member Village Board of Trustees unanimously approved the emergency funding in the form of a T.A.N. or Tax Anticipation Note. The plan allows using the library’s own future tax revenues as collateral. The Village says it will release the funds as library officials present it with financial reorganization plans.
The emergency measure may keep the doors open but it does not alleviate library cost cutting measures which still keep it from buying new books, periodicals, filling four empty staff positions and closing the Teen Room. Freeman says the library will rely on fundraisers for overall budget relief and funding of specific programs.
Admittedly earning public confidence and trust is also a challenge. “I know people are pointing fingers at us but we were the board that discovered there was a problem and when we discovered a problem we immediately did something,” said Freeman.
The library official vowed, “Every month we are happy to put on our website exactly what our status is. What is going in and what is coming out and being much more transparent than we have been in the past.”
She furthered explained that a forensic audit is underway, the incorporation of new oversight protocols and a newly created library budget committee as well as the willingness to make public library audits for the past six years. It is unknown if a tax increase will be necessary, and ultimately Village residents vote on whether to approve the library budget.
Freeman lamented that the library’s story has become one of money and financial chaos rather than its overreaching contribution to the community. “We (this board) created a five year plan to energize the library and that was our emphasis because we felt that this had the potential to be a fabulous library and I have to tell you that in two -three years we have turned this around tripled the amount of people coming here and many new programs…The story should be, ‘look who we brought into the library, look at that we now go to the Hispanic community, created many children’s programs, distributed free books.’