MADEIRA BEACH — A spat over how the city handles the Gulf Beaches Public Library's money is ending a relationship that began more than a year ago when the library's own financial management came under fire from its member cities.
City Manager W.D. Higginbotham Jr. plans to inform the library board of his decision to stop providing financial management services to the library at its meeting this month.
"I have made up my mind. It is a burden on our staff, and the library board has been making more and more demands on our time. It has been a death of a thousand cuts," Higginbotham said Thursday.
The last of these "cuts" was a formal request from the library board for copies of all its bank statements.
Since the library's money is in the same bank account as the city's money, that would be difficult, Higginbotham said.
Some members of the library's board thought the library should be receiving interest on its money, and even the city does not earn interest on its money, the city manager said.
"They wanted proof they weren't getting interest. Do you show up at Bank of America and say show me my money? I was dumbfounded," Higginbotham said.
He informed the City Commission of his decision during a workshop discussion last week.
The city began handling the library's books and bank accounts in October 2008 when the library was embroiled in a financial controversy involving its then-director, Jan Horah, and under criticism from its member towns.
The library, although based in Madeira Beach, is financed by that city, Treasure Island, Redington Beach, North Redington Beach and Redington Shores.
"The records were a total mess. It took us several months to get them straightened out," Higginbotham said.
At first the city charged the library $100 a month for its accounting and check-writing services. That fee soon went up to $250 a month.
It is now costing the city "at least" $1,000 a month to handle the library's books, he said.
The city fronts the money for the library to pay its bills until operating revenue is received from the other towns and the Pinellas Public Library Cooperative.
It also does not charge the library for its portion of the approximately $1,200 a month in bank fees.
He described the library board's increasing demands for financial reporting as "kind of annoying" and "biting the hand that feeds you."
Library director Maggie Cinnella has a different take.
She said the library board, which represents all five communities, is concerned that they are putting all the library's money into one town's general fund.
Her board wanted a "better explanation" of how its money was mixed in with the city's money, she said.
Cinnella has not started looking for an accountant because the actual changeover will not occur until the end of the fiscal year, in September.
Higginbotham said that by that time the library must either hire its own accountant or arrange for one of the other member towns to take over the service.