OLD ORCHARD BEACH, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- The trustees of the Edith Belle Libby Memorial Library in Old Orchard Beach warn the library could close May 9 if they cannot come to a financial agreement with the town.
The library discovered last month that "a considerable amount" of money was missing from its account, shortly after the death of its bookkeeper, Linda Jenkins. An investigation is underway.
The town used to send the library its funding in quarterly installments. But town manager Mark Pearson has sent the library trustees a letter, saying that the town's finance department will now pay the library's bills directly. Pearson asked the trustees to send over payroll information and invoices for goods and services that the library receives, and the town will pay.
"This is an effort on my part to require the library to be transparent and to be accountable, and in return, I'm safeguarding the taxpayers' money. We already know there's been a breach of funds supplied by the taxpayers, and I have a fiduciary duty to the taxpayers and to the town council that I work for that the dollars are allocated, and that I can account for them," Pearson said.
The library's trustees said, though, that it is very important that the library remain an independent corporation. The trustees say simply handing over all the financial decisions to the town would violate their bylaws, which read, in part, "The board shall make all rules and regulation for the transactions of the Corporation not inconsistent with law." They also state that the library's treasurer "shall have custody of the monies of the Corporation, shall be responsible for collecting the debts owed to the Corporation, paying the obligations of the Corporation, filing the Corporation's tax returns and maintaining books of the financial affairs of the Corporation."
Library trustee Israel Collins said, "We are a corporation that cannot simply bow down and give ourselves over to the town and become a town department without violating state law."
The trustees have proposed a Memorandum of Understanding with the town that would allow the town to provide payroll processing and accounts payable, but would recognize that decisions about how the library chooses to spend its money remain with the board. Trustee Wendy Brown said, "They can have control of the money, but they still need to allow us to tell them how it needs to be spent... It seems like the position of the administrative offices of the town is that they want to take control of the library."
Pearson said this issue has nothing to do with control of the library. He said the memorandum is an issue that can be decided at a different time, and has nothing to do with the financial responsibility of the library. "The issue is that I'm not going to be giving a blank check for funds, given the history that there's been a misappropriation of public funds."
The trustees say they are victims of theft, and that as far as they know, no current library employee or board member is under investigation. They estimate that the library will not have enough money to stay open past May 9. Brown said, "We're not asking them to give us this money and let us run willy nilly with it. We are going to operate the library. We are going to offer this service to the people of Old Orchard Beach."
Pearson said, "The only reason this library is closing is that the library refuses to submit the necessary bills to the town for the town to pay for them so that the library can stay open."