The county librarian says the use of Malibu taxes in other city’s libraries was proper because current policy allows money paid into the library system to be used anywhere in the county. City officials say investigation of policies and finances will continue.
By Susan Reines/Special to The Malibu Times
The head county librarian stated in a recent letter to a Malibu lawyer that the county library does not owe the city of Malibu any money and will not repay any back funds, despite growing protest about the county’s failure to spend as much money on library services in Malibu as the city’s taxpayers put in to the system.
County Librarian Margaret Donnellan Todd wrote that the county’s policy does not require the same amount be spent on each city as the city pays in taxes, so the nearly half million dollar gap between the amount Malibu taxpayers paid in and the net worth of services they received was entirely legal.
The $443,138 collected from but not spent in Malibu was used “within the County Library’s entire service area,” Todd wrote, suggesting that the funds were used at other libraries in the county or for general library expenses.
Council Member Pamela Conley Ulich, who began investigating the issue of library finances last spring when she noticed that the Agoura Hills Library seemed to have better services than Malibu’s, said the city “will pursue all avenues” to see if Todd’s statements about the policy are correct and if any money is in fact owed.
At its last meeting, the City Council asked City Treasurer/Auditor Pete Lippman to begin analyzing the library financial data.
Lippman said in an interview Tuesday that he had submitted about 25 questions to Todd, who passed them on to the county audit controller, to get information about specific expenditures. He said he had been “getting some hesitancy” from the county about releasing financial information and had been told there was not specific revenue data from some past years, which he said “seems odd.” He said he might begin investigating specific transactions that seem “possibly questionable,” depending on how the county answers his questions.
But Lippman said he was keeping a neutral position. “I’m trying to go middle of the road,” he said. “I’m not going into this with preconceived notions.”
Ulich said the city’s “lethal weapon of last resort” if Lippman finds problems and no agreement can be reached with the county would be to pull out of the county library system and form a city library. “Then all the [tax] money would be spent in Malibu,” she said.
Residents, too, have gotten involved in the library issue. Ulich said the community has been very involved and she has “just been helping the process.”
Despite its insistence that no money is owed to Malibu, the county seems ready to change its policy on where funds are used.
Todd wrote in her letter, which was a reply to an inquiry from Malibu resident and lawyer Joan Lavine, and was copied to county officials and the Malibu city manager, that she would “recommend” that the county change its policy to address widespread resident sentiment that each city or unincorporated district should receive in services the amount it pays to the county library system in taxes.
County Library Public Information Officer Nancy Mahr said she believed there were about six libraries in the county that, like Malibu, had been paying more money than they received in services.
Mahr said the policy of where taxes are spent would be changed piecemeal, one library at a time, and Todd was working with the Malibu Library Board of Supervisors and the Malibu City Council to devise a plan for how the extra money would be used in Malibu-whether for longer hours, new computers or other services.
There is no timeline set for when a new policy would be implemented, Mahr said. Once Todd, the Malibu Library Board of Supervisors and the Malibu City Council come to an agreement about the use of funds, a revised budget would go to the County Library Board of Supervisors for review.
Mahr said the county would try to find a way to use all of Malibu’s tax dollars on its own library without forcing libraries in the county’s less affluent cities, which have likely been utilizing some of Malibu’s money, to cut their services. For example, she said, money could possibly be taken from general operating budgets and diverted back to Malibu instead of drawing from other individual libraries.
Todd did not specifically address in her letter another point of contention between Malibu and the county, that Malibu paid $107,000 last year to house the library in a county-owned building.
At a public meeting with Todd in July, residents and city officials questioned why it seemed the city was paying rent to use a county-owned building, especially because the amount owed seemed to be changing each year and there was disagreement about how many square feet of the county building the library actually used.
Mahr said that, according to information provided to her by David Flint, the county library assistant director for finance and planning, the yearly fees were payments for debt financing because the county had footed the bill for the building’s construction and the tenants, like the library, courthouse and sheriff, were now paying that money back. She said the yearly payments would eventually end but Flint had told her he did not know when.