WFL fiscal practices questioned

Saturday, May 14, 2011

WFL fiscal practices questioned

Right up front, I'm having serious problems about the way Westhampton Free Library is doing things.

I still don't like that it is a Taxing District, and that the people sitting on the WFL Board are "invited" to the position, rather than elected by those whose money they are spending.

(And I've always been bothered that the Boards of both WFL and the Incorporated Village of Westhampton Beach, taxing districts each, have two (2) members in common: Joan Levan and Hank Tucker1.)

The only thing on which Library District mem­bers are allowed to vote is the annual budget or for a special project, as happened in 2007 when it needed taxpayer approval to enter into bonded indebtedness of $7,827,820 for a new building.

But spurred by comments to OtBB's March 28th entry, attention has been shifted to the stewardship of WFL, and occasioned a look "under the hood" of just how things are being done at 7 Library Avenue.

The vote on WFL's annual budget is this Tues­day2, and there's a lot of ground to cover and information to digest.

For example: I am still aghast at WFL Director Matt Bollerman's assertion that WFL is not compelled to follow a competitive bid process because WFL "is an Association Library."

It can be argued that this would be the case if our new Library had been funded en­tirely with private gifts given without restrictions.

But, as we know, this isn't how it happened.

The building project is funded with a tax exempt civic facilities bond from the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency. The bond cash is commingled with funds secured with local tax dollars from prior years that have been reallocated from WFL's General Fund to its Building Fund.

(That's right. Transfers from District taxes for operations in FY08: $50,553. In FY09: $300,000. In FY10: at minimum, the $18,500 line item called "education" in the budget that voters passed. Yes, that's all in addition to the "debt service" that we are already paying for the build­ing project.)

There are two issues to consider here:

  1. The contract between the IDA and WFL should specify the terms and conditions of procurement with the bond funds – that is, how and at what threshold WFL is required to secure verbal quotes or written bids for goods and services.

    The contract may refer to a separate­ly documented procurement policy, but that policy must be one to which WFL adheres in order for the IDA to show WFL's building project bond on its own books.
  2. District tax payers should reasonably expect that their tax dollars are used in a manner consistent with a docu­mented procurement policy.

WFL is a Free Association Library, and like all libraries in New York State, it must comply with NYS Education Law 257, meaning that it must meet the...

"...conditions as may be stipulated..."

...in the terms of the gifts and tax appropria­tions it receives.

WFL contracts with Westhampton Beach School District to tax the district for operations alone. That's why WFL prepares a budget, so that voting taxpayers may determine the reasonableness of the cost of operations.

We are not, however, voting to have operating dollars transferred to the building project.

It bears noting here that no budget that WFL has ever presented to voters has shown the balance it carries over for operations for the coming year, much less how much it has transferred to the building initiative. That is a matter of accounting policy.

District voters would probably like to know where in WFL's accounting policies it states that funds secured by public vote solely for the purposes of operations may be transferred to the building project for which they are paying separately.

(Those items remain separate votes for a reason.)

Library District residents never voted to allow WFL to transfer excess operating funds to the building initiative. District taxpayers reason­ably assumed that the bond cash would suffice to fund the building, otherwise it's unlikely the enabling vote in October 2007 would have passed.

Voters have a right to see both the procure­ment and complete accounting policies3, and it would be a good time for Mr. Bollerman to have them posted to WFL's website.

And while WFL's Webmaster is making the site more informational, the complete Forms 990 for the past five years (not just FY10) properly labeled4, Forms 1023 and all other reports annually filed with the IRS could be added as well.

The Forms 990 filed with the IRS indicate that all of this information is available on WFL's website, yet those documents are not there.

Transparency! Voters require it.

Notes
  1. While Mrs. Levan will leaving the Village Board, it is Michael Lennon who is not seeking another term on WFL's Board.
  2. At the High School Large Group Instruc­tion room behind the Auditorium from 7:00 am to 9:00 pm.
  3. Not summarized.
  4. Currently "09" is actually FY10, "08" is FY09; etc.

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