Detroit Broke but Spends $2.3 M on Fancy Library

Posted on April 24, 2011

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Detroit Public Library officials say finances have grown so bad they could close most neighborhood branches, but in a few weeks plan to unveil a revamped wing of a main library that even administrators say spares few expenses.

The South Wing is stocked with 20 yellow and orange European lounge chairs that cost $1,092 apiece, artistic pendant light fixtures and two alcohol-burning fireplaces. The project morphed from a $300,000 furniture update to a $2.3 million overhaul with new floors, study rooms, lighting and built-in, wood-framed book shelves

“$1,100 per chair is reckless spending for a public institution,” said Todd Kelly, president of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1259, which represents 125 workers, including clerks, janitors and security staffers.

“It would be easier to swallow the current situation if we didn’t see things like that.”

It’s not the only spending to come under question as the system considers closing up to 18 of 23 branches and laying off as many as 191 of 333 workers. A Detroit News review showed that, since 2008, the library has paid at least $160,000 to food vendors, including $1,760 at an ice-cream shop, and spent $1 million on 6 percent raises to union workers at a time counterparts in City Hall took 10 percent pay cuts.

Executive Director Jo Anne Mondowney agreed the South Wing renovation was costly and that too much has been spent on food. But she said she’s only been on the job for about 19 months and isn’t responsible for much of the spending.

Construction was approved by the library board the same month she started the job, but commission minutes show that the $624,000 contract for furniture and shelving was approved under her watch in May 2010. Mondowney said she didn’t know who approved the chairs, which will be used by patrons, and that her staff tried unsuccessfully to return them.

“We are looking carefully and monitoring all of our expenses and revenues,” said Mondowney, who also said she’s cut down on food spending.

“There were some things we couldn’t undo. The tiger was out of the house. I have focused staff to become much more mindful of our spending.”

Union leaders argue the $2.3 million, which came from operational funds, could have helped reduce an $11 million shortfall.

But Edward Thomas, chairman of the library commission, said the South Wing spending has no connection to the library’s current financial crisis. The library is funded by a 4.63 mill tax and officials project revenues will drop 20 percent per year until 2015 because of declining property values and population. The tax that generated about $40 million in 2010 is only expected to produce $14 million by 2015.

Our monthly payroll is $2 million,” Thomas said. “When you have a situation like this, people are looking for someone to blame. I just think some things are being made more of than they are. The root cause is really the decline in property taxes.”

Commissioner Anthony Adams said the board must “learn from its past mistakes.”

“You really can’t justify $1,100 chairs,” said Adams, who joined the board this year and has investigated the South Wing spending.

“I don’t think there was any ill will, but it just doesn’t look right in the current climate.”

MORE…..detnews.com   By   Christine MacDonald

From The Detroit News: http://detnews.com/article/20110422/METRO/104220381/Critics–$2.3M-Detroit-library-project-a-symbol-of-waste-amid-budget-crisis#ixzz1KRIvvEKC

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