An audit of the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library criticizes its board of trustees for excessive spending on a three-year campaign to set the library up as its own taxing entity.
According to County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw, the library board unnecessarily spent $422,777 on high-priced lawyers and consultants in an effort to advance an initiative that, in the end, failed to receive support from either County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz or the County Legislature.
“Hopefully, this audit will convince the library that this taxing district is not beneficial to taxpayers,” Mychajliw said.
Library officials Monday defended the expenditures, even though the library board voted in April to suspend its pursuit of a special taxing district for the library after the Legislature declined to sign off on a home rule message that would endorse the plan.
As a means of dealing with inconsistent funding, the library board sought to obtain local support for state legislation to allow the library to function similar to how suburban school districts operate, by levying their own taxes and subjecting their proposed budgets to a public vote.
The County Legislature had requested the audit by the Comptroller’s Office, which released the 33-page document Monday.
Library Director Mary Jean Jakubowski said funds used to study and advance the initiative came from the library’s fund balance, not those dedicated to recurring expenditures, such as books and other library materials.
“The board felt it needed to invest in the future of the library and, therefore, nonrecurring funds were utilized. It did not affect our services or the materials that we purchase,” Jakubowski said.
Mychajliw said they were still taxpayer dollars and questioned the wisdom of the library spending $323,354 on lawyer fees and $99,423 on consulting fees.
“They should have been investing that money into books for children and additional programming for families,” Mychajliw said.
“They did not put the public relations contract out to bid. Adding insult to injury, they hired a downstate, high-priced firm to conduct their business. They already have a public relations specialist on the payroll for $75,000.”
Jack Connors, chairman of the library board, acknowledged that the board erred by not issuing a request for proposal for the public relations consultant.
However, he defended the board’s decision to choose both the consultant and law firm based on their expertise on state legislation for special library taxing districts.
“I haven’t seen Erie County use its own internal Law Department to negotiate the contract with the Buffalo Bills. I haven’t seen Erie Community College use their own internal people do a site study for their new building in Amherst,” Connors said.
“So why would the County Legislature or the county executive expect the library to only use internal people to look into this initiative?”
Connors and Jakubowski also noted that library staff members, who were inundated with other projects vital to the library’s daily operations, lacked the expertise to pursue the information technology and communications work required to pursue a special district.