(Buffalo, New York) – Erie County Comptroller Stefan I. Mychajliw released the results of an audit of the Buffalo and Erie County Public Library System (the library). The audit was performed at the request of a bi-partisan group of Erie County Legislators after they passed a resolution demanding it.
“While cutting services and reducing the budgets for materials in neighborhood libraries, library administration wasted money on high priced lawyers and consultants to try and form their own special taxing district. Instead of buying more books and investing more in children’s programming, the library spent big bucks trying to create an extra layer of government taxpayers can’t afford,” said Mychajliw.
The audit uncovered $422,777 in expenses related the library’s pursuit of taxing power. Those expenses included $323,354 on lawyer fees and $99,423 on public relations consulting fees. For three years, the Library has worked with downstate consultants and lawyers to pursue legislation in Albany that would set them up as a taxing authority, similar to a school district. This is despite the fact that the library already has a full time Communications Director on staff that is paid $75,000 annually.
“The last thing the library should do is create another layer of government in Erie County. Our overburdened taxpayers are struggling. I call on the library to immediately end their misguided quest to expand big government in our area. Lawyers and high priced consultants made big bucks at the expense of additional books for children and more programs for families,” added Comptroller Mychajliw.
The audit also revealed that the decision to hire a Public Relations consultant, Communications Services, was made without following the proper procedure of putting the work out to bid by issuing Requests for Proposals (an RFP). This would have guaranteed professional services at the best price possible for taxpayers in a process that would have been open and transparent.
Library administration, on their own, with no authority whatsoever to do so, declared Communications Services a sole source provider for consultation services and went ahead and executed the contract. Comptroller’s Office auditors confirmed with the Erie County Department of Purchase that the library did not contact them to determine whether or not Communications Services was sole source, or if the standard and legally required request for proposal process could be side stepped.
“The library maintains that fiscal stability can only be achieved if they have the power to levy direct taxes on property tax owners. I argue the opposite. Stop wasting hundreds of thousands of dollars on a special taxing district and direct it toward neighborhood libraries,” said Comptroller Mychajliw.
Using the library’s own data, a $422,777 budget could have purchased 35,894 new books or 1,597 additional operating hours.
Instead of providing valuable resources for the community, unnecessary consulting costs were incurred. In addition to a monthly retainer fee, the Library reimbursed the Communications Services President for a variety of different wasteful and questionable expenses.
Items at gift shops, candy bars, and even a movie rental were purchased and reimbursed. Hiring a consulting firm from out of the area resulted in $8,574 in mileage reimbursement expenses on top of the local mileage of $760 charged to the Library.
“The library completely ignored the law on how to execute a very lucrative contract. Adding insult to injury, the library gave a no-bid contract to an out of town firm,” said Comptroller Mychajliw.
“It is imperative for the good of the taxpayer that the library immediately stop their pursuit of a special taxing district. Their focus should be on the business of providing library services to the residents of Erie County,” added Mychajliw.
The audit also reviewed an efficiency grant the library received from the Erie County Fiscal Stability Authority (Control Board). One of the grant stipulations was that the applicant had to demonstrate a real cost savings in order to be eligible to apply.
The library made the case that a nearly $2.5 million grant to implement RFID (Radio Frequency Identification) technology in library branches would help them reduce staffing costs. Although staff counts were reduced, the cost for personnel significantly increased. “I believe the spirit of the grant was to reduce personnel costs to save taxpayers money, not just reduce the number of employees. Any other explanation is just smoke and mirrors,” said Mychajliw.