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Tourism office faces rent woes

POSTED: July 16, 2014 4:00 a.m.

Dawson County's office of tourism development has requested an additional $41,000 to cover its portion of the rent at the Chamber of Commerce Welcome Center on Ga. 400.

Christie Haynes, president of the chamber and office of tourism development, told county commissioners Thursday that the request is a one-time subsidy and "not the result of fund mismanagement or deficit spending."

The issue developed, she said, after a recent audit report indicated the tourism division could not pay rent to the chamber with restricted hotel/motel tax funds as it had in the past.

"[The] office of tourism development paying rent to the chamber is not an eligible expense because the two organizations fall under the same tax identification number," she said.

Officials are taking steps, including the creation of a holding foundation specifically designed to manage the building, intended to correct the issue.

While the process could take at least four months, once complete both the chamber and tourism office will pay rent to the foundation for using the building, Haynes said.

In the meantime, however, the tourism division remains short on funds to pay the rent.

In her presentation to the commission, Haynes highlighted six years of increased hotel/motel taxes in Dawson County, from $122,959 in 2008 to $233,794 in 2013.

She suggested the additional funds come from the county's portion of unrestricted hotel/motel tax money that exceeded the originally budgeted amount, $18,439 in 2013 and $22,308 on 2014.

District 1 Commissioner Gary Pichon said Thursday the situation felt like the movie "Groundhog Day" to him.

"Go back 10 years ago, the county was transferring this money to a downtown development authority and upon legal review by two outside firms, it was determined ... that we were doing that incorrectly and that funding was cut off," he said.

"People looked at the whole issue of stewardship and raised their eyes at us. Here we are, back at the same kind of problem where we're going to have to dip into our general fund if we fix this thing, another $40,000."

He also questioned the chamber's purchase of the welcome center building when the organization was operating rent-free in the county-owned historic jail.
"As I recall ... nobody came to us and said, ‘Here's what we're going to do. Here's what we're going to use the money for.' Whether that was a good decision or a bad decision, this board - who is the steward of this county - was not consulted," he said.

"I don't think it's fair to this board to go do these decisions, put us on the hook for this money and then come back with these kinds of discussions. It's not right."

Commissioner James Swafford asked if the chamber was willing to spend any of the money it has held in CDs.

"The purpose of that CD really, in general, is to have a safety fund for the building," Haynes said. "But we all know that you never want to have an organization that has nothing in the bank."

Swafford added: "That's what our fund balance is for, too."

The commission is expected to vote on the request during its 6 p.m. meeting July 17 at the Dawson County Government Center.

 

 

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