Friends of Library May Need to Turn Excess Funds Over to County

A new Memorandum of Understanding being proposed by the Fairfax County Library Board of Trustees is being labeled by library supporters as a “money grab.”

Specifically, Fairfax Library Advocates say a call that individual library Friends’ groups can only keep a designated amount in reserve while turning the rest over to the library system for general programming is a case of the county trying to overstep its bounds.

“All of the Friends are 501(c)(3) organizations. We’re all in compliance with state and federal laws, we all publish our financial records every year,” said Dennis Hays, a board member of the Friends of the Reston Regional Library and chair of Fairfax Library Advocates. “The county has no ability to dictate how an independent group conducts its internal affairs.”

Hays said the Friends groups have always in the past had agreeable MOUs with the Board of Trustees. The proposed MOU would require all Friends groups, even the smallest, to be subject to the same licensing and auditing requirements.

“If something isn’t broke, why are you trying to fix it?” he said, adding that some Friends groups may not survive such new rules. “There has never been, to my knowledge, any issues or problems with the Friends.”

Hays said the Friends groups have not been informed by the Trustees why this change, which would only allow groups to hold in reserve three times their annual donation, is necessary. In an interview with The Annandale Blog earlier this month, Fairfax County Public Library Director Jessica Hudson said the proposed MOU is a preventive and protective measure that will also allow the system to “find good ways to spend that [surplus] money, not just have it sit there.”

Hays said that in Reston, where the Friends group has close to $1 million saved, money is being held for a rainy day that is just over the horizon.

“Part of the reason we have a big surplus at the moment is, as you know, we’re looking at a renovation of the library,” he said. “That could last, if worse come to worse, three or four years where we will have to operate off our existing funds if we want to continue to support the library.”

Funds collected by the Friends through donations and events such as their book sale go toward supporting designated projects at the library. The proposal from the Library Board of Trustees to dip into those funds, Hays said, is all about control.

“For the county to try to come in and micromanage these things doesn’t make sense,” he said. “I think they’re headed down that path, and I think it’s a destructive path. I’m hoping that they see the light and back off a little bit on all this.”

Hays has presented an alternative MOU, which he says has been “ignored.”

“What we understand is they are working on their version, which will be presumably released at some point and then we will have to deal with it,” he said. “At the end of the day, we want to work with the County. This is what we do.”

In her interview with The Annandale Blog, Hudson said the work of the Friends groups is valued.

“We would not do anything to egregiously harm the Friends groups,” she told the blog. “The Friends are wonderful people who work very hard.”

There are 23 library Friends groups across Fairfax County.

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