Audit: Library stockpiled money, unbeknownst to taxpayers
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The North Shore Public Library ran up "excessive" surpluses for six years without disclosing the practice to taxpayers or board members, according to an audit prepared by the state comptroller's office.
North Shore library board president William Schiavo said in a response to the audit that the surpluses were intended to save money for employee retirement benefits.
From 2006 to 2012, the Shoreham-based library district accumulated unspent fund balances of $13.969 million, or 66.4 percent of operating funds during that period, which totaled $21.04 million, state auditors said in a 13-page report released Friday.
The district, which serves Shoreham, Wading River and Rocky Point, also spent capital project funds on "day-to-day expenditures that should have been paid from the general fund," state auditors said.
Auditors with Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office said information about the surpluses was not made public.
"Library officials have chosen to retain excess surplus fund balance rather than return it to taxpayers and have done so with a lack of transparency in the budget process," the audit said. "This lack of transparency limits taxpayers' ability to make informed budget decisions."
Residents are scheduled to vote Tuesday on a proposed $3.8 million library budget for 2014-15. The budget would raise taxes by 0.9 percent, or about $4 for the average taxpayer, library director Laura Hawrey said in an email.
Voting hours are 9:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. at the library, 250 Rte. 25A.
In a six-page response to the audit, Schiavo said projections indicate the library will require $3 million to fund benefits for future retirees, but had only $1 million set aside for those payments.
"The North Shore Public Library believes and asserts that its set-aside funding to meet the future burdens . . . represents a foresight and responsibility which warrants a respect and approval," Schiavo wrote. He added that government failures to fund employee pensions "have placed states and municipalities on the brink of bankruptcy."
Schiavo said a fund balance policy recommended by the audit was adopted in August by the library board.
In a statement, Hawrey said board members will receive a "detailed fiscal accounting" of district spending, and budget information will be published on the library website.
"We feel that the financial condition of the library could not be more sound, accountable or responsible to our taxpayers," she said.