MADEIRA BEACH — The Madeira Beach Public Library may be facing a sharp reduction in county funding next year because it saved, instead of spent, nearly $400,000 of county money over the past seven years.
Money contributed to local libraries by the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative is supposed to be used for direct operations, book purchases and overhead costs.
According to library cooperative director Mary Brown, 80 percent of the libraries in the county spend all the money each year.
Not so for the Madeira Beach library, which is also supported by contributions from its five member towns (Treasure Island, Madeira Beach, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores).
For at least the past seven years, the library has set aside some of the cooperative's contributions in a reserve account it hoped to use eventually to build a new library. That reserve now totals $396,764.
It also used some of that money this year to give its member towns a 50 percent reduction in their scheduled contributions for library operations.
The problem is that both uses are against the cooperative's rules.
"This unexpended (PPLC) funding is to be used for the operation of the Library and cannot be used for building improvements or additions," Peter Schatzel said in his audit report. "Additionally, the unexpended Cooperative (PPLC) funding cannot be used to supplant a decrease in local funding that would be disproportionate to a decrease in Cooperative funding."
The cooperative gives to all county libraries according to a complicated formula. For Madeira Beach that formula means the funding can match but not exceed the amount raised locally each year.
Brown said Monday that this year's drop in local contributions from the five towns will mean the funding from the cooperative likely will drop next year — in addition to an already scheduled $35,000 cut.
Local officials also are concerned the group may want some of the unspent money returned to the county library system.
Library Board Chairman and Redington Beach Mayor Nick Simons planned to meet with county library officials this morning to discover what, if any, punitive actions the cooperative might take.
"What I want to find out is how can we fix it? And why were we not told there were restrictions on the PPLC money?" Simons said Tuesday.
Madeira Beach City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. also is upset the library board was not aware of the spending restrictions.
"The money hasn't been spent properly and the PPLC could demand it back," Higginbotham told his commission during a workshop session last week.
He predicted the member towns will continue to keep a close watch on library operations.
Last summer, Treasure Island threatened to withdraw its funding when it could not get budget information from the library.
During the dispute, sharp criticism of library director Jan Horah led to her and other library staff being fired.
Treasure Island subsequently agreed to formally rejoin the library system when the library offered to use part of its reserves to cover half the member towns' budget contributions.