When the Board of Finance cut the library's proposed spending down to a flat budget for fiscal year 2013-14 last week, Chairman Mark Reed cited $271,000 in available income from the Edith Wheeler Memorial Trust as the reason. However, Bill Ehlers, chairman of the library's board of directors, says there is a misunderstanding over how the funding can be spent.
Ehlers spoke before the Board of Finance last Monday night, explaining that it is only to be used for extraordinary expenses not provided for in the operating budget, which is the town's responsibility to fund. But the board still decided to approve the cuts on Thursday.
"We'll work with the Board of Finance," Ehlers said Friday. "I think there's a breakdown in communication and, quite frankly, I think the conclusions are wrongheaded and have to be corrected. But they have to be corrected through mutual understanding. We're all volunteers who want a better town and that's what we're trying to do."
Board of Finance Chairman Mark Reed responded in a letter Monday morning.
As a beneficiary of the revocable living trust, Edith Wheeler Memorial Library is able to use funding from income on the principal in perpetuity, at the discretion of the trustees for the estate.
Ehlers said it was originally around $800,000 and that some of it went toward an architectural plan necessary to secure a $500,000 state grant to build the new library when the old one was housed at town hall. Another $400,000 of the trust was used for the project.
Ehlers said the Library Board did not make any requests to the trustees to use the funds again, until the new building opened in 2007.
"Over a period of time money accumulated because we didn't use it," Ehlers said. "Why would you do that for an old library at town hall when you knew we were building a new one? After it was built, we saw a need for additional furniture and bulletin boards — things we would normally ask the town for."
A checking account was established in 2010 to draw money from the fund and Ehlers said the Library Board wanted guidelines in writing on any limitations on the way the money could be spent, so the document could be shown to town officials whenever use of the trust came into question.
John Chiota, then the area's judge of probate, was the attorney for the Edith Wheeler Trust. Upon the Monroe Library Board of Directors' request, Chiota drafted the revocable living trust agreement, with two pages of guidelines for how to spend the money, according to Ehlers.
Among the language of the guidelines, it says, "The special needs trust was established to the extent that the net income would be used to supplement the normal budgetary amount received by the library from the town."
"It was never intended to replace Monroe's annual budgetary contribution to the library's operation," Ehlers explained. "The library board of trustees takes its marching orders from that guideline. If there should be any discussion about whether or not there are exceptions, we have that conversation with one of the trustees of the Edith Wheeler Estate — and always do."
Exceptions Cause Confusion
Though the fund is only meant to be used for things over and above the operating budget the town provides, Ehlers said library requests have been turned down repeatedly at budget time over the years, prompting the library to turn to the trustees to allow it to use the fund for things that should have been part of the operating budget.
For instance, the library used to be open on Saturdays, but not year-round, and the town had never provided the funding for it to open on Sundays, according to Ehlers. The board of trustees allowed the library to use trust income to keep the library open on Saturdays year-round and on Sundays with the exception of the summer.
Ehlers said the Library Board justified it, because it had never been part of the operating expense provided by the town. Prior to this, he said the library had tried to have it included in the operating budget but had always been turned down.
The Board of Finance saw this as using the fund for operating expenses and reasoned the library must be able to use it to cover other costs, according to Ehlers.
Another expense Ehlers said the library used the fund for was the renewal of Morning Star, an online data base which rates every mutual fund. Library users can access the service at home with their library card. The town was going to allow access to the data base to expire, and Ehlers said Library Dir. Margaret Borchers believed the program was valuable for patrons and asked the trustees for permission to fund it.
When he came before the Board of Finance last week, Ehlers said he had given members a register of how trust income is used to pay for things beyond the operating budget. However, the library has used it on ocassion to pay for things that should be operating expenses when it felt it had to be done, he added.
"There are two expenditures that would be defined as operating expenses, cleaning the rugs and painting the walls," he said. "I know it's a contradiction to what I said, but we are not going to allow that library, which everyone respects and reveres, to deteriorate."