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Auditor:Trend is positive

Despite deficient fund balance, outlook improving

June 18, 2014 - Brandon Twp.- The library is in deficit by roughly $22,000, with liabilities greater than assets.

However, while the general fund balance is negative by about 2.5 percent, transparency and monitoring have been "very good" since November.

"There is more work to be done, but the trend is positive," said Joe Verlin, a certified public accountant with Gabridge & Company, which recently completed an audit of the library. "You need to keep the momentum going so the library can put these issues behind it."

Verlin gave a draft version of the audit to library board members during a special meeting June 10. The final audit will not be released until board approval. A vote on the audit will occur at the regular library board meeting, set for 7 p.m., June 23, at the library, 304 South St.

"We are pleased with the results of the audit, it's what we expected," said Board President Patty Salter. "We have a lot of hard work ahead, but we can pull through and increase the fund balance."

Pfeffer, Hanniford, and Palka, the library's previous auditing firm, informed the library board a year ago that the library was in deficit by $35,000. The deficit, said Salter, is a result of hits to property tax values and reduced income over the past few years.

The reduced income was also due in part to the library not receiving state aid revenue. Director Paula Gauthier resigned suddenly Nov. 14, hours before she was to explain to the board why the library had not received state aid revenue during her 5-year tenure. The reason, it was determined, was that Gauthier never provided proof of having a master's degree to the state, required for the director of a library of Brandon's size. The board later learned that not only did Gauthier not have a master's degree from the University of Michigan as she claimed, she also does not have a bachelor's degree from Grand Valley State University as she purported.

"When Paula resigned, we learned we were not OK as we had been assured by the auditors that we would be," said Salter.

With Gauthier's resignation, the library board fired Pfeffer, Hanniford and Palka and hired Gabridge and Company, which began the audit May 1, which covered all library financial transactions from Jan. 1-Dec. 31, 2013.

Verlin said with the library's negative fund balance, once the audit is submitted to the treasury, the state will request a corrective action plan from the library to eliminate the deficit, which must be submitted by the end of the year. The state typically allows five years for deficit elimination and recommends a 25-50 percent fund balance. To achieve the recommendation, the library will need a general fund balance of more than $200,000.

"There needs to be $246,000 of improvements to make sure you have ample cash reserves," said Verlin.

Board Vice-President Karen Harrison asked Verlin how much of the library's budget was spent on salaries and fringe benefits, to which he responded more than $600,000, or, about 59 percent of the total budget.

Several library employees were in attendance at the meeting and expressed concern that the library was looking to hire an expensive director and would do so at the expense of staff, slashing employee benefits.

"Our staff is our greatest asset— not books, not programs," said Interim Director and Adult Services Librarian Colleen Stringer. "The staff has been cheated, lied to, and intimidated. We are loyal to the community and no one here is expendable. We will still be here serving the public long after this board's term has expired."

"Most of us have a lot of years invested here and plans to invest many more," said Gail Carpenter. "It's very frustrating because we're going to be haunted by two despicable directors we've had since this building was opened. Please respect and understand where we're coming from— it is our future, too."

"We've taken cuts for so long, and big cuts and still we give 110 percent," said Fran Hotchkiss, children's librarian. "Loyalty and dedication should count for a little more."

Salter said she was upset that the employees are upset and noted the libary board is not one person, but a six-member board with majority rule.

Trustee Verna Cole agreed.

"The staff here kept the doors open when many other libraries would have closed (under the circumstances of the director's departure)," said Cole. "We have a responsibility to you and the taxpayers. When you hear us talking about benefits, or staff or books, that's our job... The staff deserves so much more, but it's not ours to give, it's not our money."

Salter said the board will review all the benefits and is shopping for benefits packages.

"We are not talking about eliminating, but getting new (packages)," she said. "I can't say we aren't going to eliminate something, but that is not the goal. The goal is to examine and see if we can do better. These are hard choices and obviously, you can't spend more than you make."

Susan covers Brandon Township and Ortonville
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