Mamaroneck Public Library’s Missing Funds Prompt Investigation

The Mamaroneck Public Library, NY, has been hit with a budget shortfall of an estimated $1.4 million, Director Jennifer O’Neill told LJ. For years, the library has used cash reserves to balance its annual spending plans. But in January, the monthly report submitted by MPL’s longtime business manager unexpectedly showed almost no money in that fund to draw on.

Mamaroneck Public Library exterior lit up with red lights
Photo by Mamaroneck Public Library via Wikipedia

Visitors to the website for the Mamaroneck Public Library (MPL), NY barely need to scroll down the home page before seeing a highly visible prompt to Donate, which links to a site urging small-dollar contributions. “Please help save Mamaroneck Public Library,” it states. “Your help is urgently needed.” The donor scroll reveals a series of incoming pledges: $25, $100, a couple for $500. As of May 19, $22,880 had been raised. The overall goal, however, is $1.4 million.

MPL has been hit with a budget shortfall of an estimated $1.4 million, Director Jennifer O’Neill told LJ. For years, the library has used cash reserves to balance its annual spending plans. But in January, the monthly report submitted by MPL’s longtime business manager unexpectedly showed almost no money in that fund to draw on.

The business manager, who was with MPL for some 20 years, resigned on March 22. Allegations have surfaced of possible misappropriation of funds stretching back years. A spokesperson for Westchester County District Attorney Miriam Rocah confirmed that there is an investigation in progress. No other details were provided; Freeman and O’Neill cannot comment on potential allegations. No arrests have been made.

“This is a horrible situation,” O’Neill said. “It shook us. There have been a lot of sleepless nights.”



MPL’s doors will stay open. Mamaroneck Mayor Tom Murphy said library officials turned to him in March seeking emergency funding. By law, Murphy said, the village couldn’t write MPL a check or even lend it the money. But it could assist in securing a tax anticipation note (TAN), basically a short-term loan from a private lender.

In April, Village of Mamaroneck officials came up with $1.4 million in stopgap funding that kept the library open—rumors of imminent closure were rampant—but MPL will need to pay back the TAN, including fees and interest, by July 2024. The village, by law, can’t bail them out.

Belt-tightening is also in evidence. The teen room has been closed until further notice. Vacant positions will go unfilled. New DVDs and books won’t be ordered. A committee made up of board members and Mamaroneck residents with accounting expertise is poring over line-item expenses, looking for savings. Nawrocki Smith LLP, a forensic auditor, has been retained and is preparing a report on exactly how the library found itself in this situation. Another priority, reinforced by village officials, is to establish tighter accounting controls to prevent a repeat of this fiscal meltdown; a plan for future oversight is in progress.

“The burden of that is certainly on our shoulders,” Ellen Freeman, president of MPL’s board of trustees, told LJ. “I didn’t think this was going to be my full-time job, but it’s turned into one.”

The job now, Freeman added, is to reduce costs, raise money to pay back the TAN, and start work on the 2024–25 budget, which goes before Mamaroneck voters in December. MPL is an independent library district, created by the state in 1991, and raises operating expenses through an annual tax levy. Last December, voters approved a 6 percent increase.



Mamaroneck, a suburb of New York City, is known for its diverse residents and wide range of income brackets. MPL, founded in 1923, has developed programming and services to serve the whole community. When torrential rains from the remnants of Hurricane Ida left swaths of the town flooded in September 2021, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) personnel used the library as a temporary headquarters. In 2022, readers of Westchester Magazine picked MPL as the county’s best library.

MPL is open seven days a week, with 37,000 square feet across four public floors. O’Neill said a priority for 2023 had been a massive indoor renovation to create more effective use of space. That plan, of course, has been shelved.

“It’s hard to tighten up when you’ve been expanding and really going great guns,” said Freeman, ticking off new programs implemented as part of MPL’s now-completed five-year plan, including tech improvements and activities geared toward immigrant families. “We had a good library before, we have a wonderful library now. It’s all about the community and serving the community, and we don’t want to go back on those things that we initiated. It’s hard.”

This is not how O’Neill envisioned commemorating the library’s centennial year, she told LJ.

Small-dollar contributions have been steadily trickling in, O’Neill notes, as well as other morale-boosting efforts from patrons. “People are coming in, they’re giving checks to the front desk,” she said. “They’re sending us flowers and balloons. They’re offering to do programs for free. We’ve gotten a number of volunteers.”

Events targeting big donors are being planned now, said Freeman. She has enlisted a professional fundraiser, working pro bono for MPL, to help in this effort. In a few weeks the library plans to release a comprehensive statement explaining what happened and what the fundraising goal is. That will help prompt contributions, she added. “There are so many people who wish to do something for us.”

Early in the crisis, as the depth of the library’s fiscal straits was becoming known, there was anger on the public’s part, O’Neill said. But as more information came to light, she noted, Mamaroneck residents have shown more understanding.

“Some suggested we let them flounder and fail.To me, that wasn’t an option,” Murphy told LJ. “I wanted to give them a chance to succeed.”

“The library represents 20,000 people,” he added—“the same 20,000 people I represent.”

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