This is the tale of a $5 bill which, innocently sitting in your wallet ever since payday, finds itself rudely extracted from its comfortable hold to pay the fine for that overdue library book you checked out three months ago and never bothered returning.

With your copy of "Catcher in the Rye" finally back on the library counter, and a scowling clerk demanding restitution for your misdeeds, the $5 is produced, the clerk offers the barest hint of a smile and somewhat reluctantly allows you to peruse the bookshelves again, and the money is placed safely in the library cash register.(Five dollars is the maximum fine for an overdue library book in the 17-branch Salt Lake County system, which does not include the Salt Lake City and Murray libraries.)

Then again, maybe the money isn't so safe, according to the Salt Lake County auditor's office.

With the coming and going of business - some library employees manning the counter, others reshelving books, some messing about in the back room - more than one library employee has access to the cash drawer, which contravenes both security and the county's policy on the management of public funds.

"The library wants the flexibility of allowing any given cashier to receive money from patrons," the report of a limited scope audit done in August states. ". . . (But) with several employees working out of the same cash drawer, shortages and overages cannot be assigned to any one employee."

Meaning that if one employee screws up and doesn't account properly for cash placed in (or taken out of) the drawer, all employees are called on the carpet.

All county agencies have to abide by the one-cash-drawer-per-employee rule, or else have fancy cash registers that require individual employee codes to be entered each time they're used. But library director Eileen Longsworth says her employees' main function is customer service, not cash handling, and doesn't want to change current practices. New registers would take care of the problem, but even though Longsworth has requested them, with the county's current budget crunch there is no guarantee she'll get them.

Even though the library system has a separate tax rate from the rest of the county, and its fund is flush compared to other county funds that are currently in dire straits - the municipal services fund, for example - it too will likely be affected by the lean times.

"There isn't a single fund that won't be impacted by our budget situation," County Commission Chairman Brent Overson said.