City, tourism department trying to settle accounts

Published 12:03 am Thursday, June 2, 2016

Editor’s note: The following story which was published in the Thursday edition of The Natchez Democrat, misidentified one of the expenses questioned by interim Natchez Convention and Promotion Commission treasurer Wayne Potter. Potter questioned an invoice from Poole Construction Company. The error in the story below has been corrected. We regret the error and are glad to set the record straight. 

NATCHEZ — The City of Natchez and its tourism department are trying to settle their accounts, but it may take up to a month.

The interim Natchez Convention Promotion Commission unanimously voted Wednesday not to pay any rent or management fee to the city until auditor Deanne Tanksley completes her investigation into the Convention and Visitors Bureau finances, which is scheduled for July 1.

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The City of Natchez transferred $175,000 in November to the CVB for the operation of the Visitor Center, which is a city-owned property. Tanksley said those funds should have remained in the city’s account, as the CVB is only a tenant in the Visitor Center building, and does not own it.

Other entities such as the National Park Service also rent space in the building.

However, Tanksley said, the CVB has been paying for the physical upkeep of the building since receiving the $175,000 which came from a grant from the Mississippi Department of Transportation.

“I think we had so much turnover there was a lot of information from the past that didn’t get carried forward, and no one knows to ask the right questions,” Tanksley said. “Somebody says, ‘Pay this bill,’ and they do it because that’s what they think they are supposed to do.”

Commission Treasurer Wayne Potter said he has conducted a survey of what the CVB was asked to pay for and compared it to the funds received from the city, and is convinced the CVB has been asked to spend its own money for the upkeep of city properties.

“By my numbers, we paid $8,000 more than we should have received,” Potter said.

Expenses that don’t seem to pertain to marketing and tourism are continuing to be billed to the CVB, Potter said, including one bill for Poole Construction Company, which is currently on the commission’s docket.

Ward 3 Alderwoman Sarah Carter Smith, who attended the meeting, said some monies the CVB typically pay to the city, including rent and a $30,000 management fee, have not been paid in months.

City Clerk Donnie Holloway said last month the CVB also owes more than $70,000 in payroll overages because of additional salaries that cannot be covered in the usual $30,000.

The management agreement expired in 2012, but Tanksley said both parties have continued to operate under its provisions.

“Currently, a management agreement is in place that was not updated,” Tanksley said. “And I think that the agreement may not have been as formal as it could have been.”

Tanksley said she has not completed her reconciliation of the accounts, but she believes the city does owe the CVB, rather than the other way around.

“More bills have been sent down here than money,” Tanksley said.

Smith quickly pointed out that more might have been expended at the Visitor Center than was budgeted.

Tanksley agreed, saying, “There are several issues here with who budgeted what, where.”

The city also paid some expenses that normally would have been the responsibility of the CVB, Tanksley said, while the commission was without any members following the resignation of the six prior commissioners April 4.

She recommended the commissioners to continue paying the building expenses and other non-marketing bills on the CVB’s docket until July 1, at which point she expects to present a reconciliation and recommendation of how to settle the accounts between the city and the CVB.

Her position as the auditor for both the CVB and the city enables her to do this relatively easily, she said.

“There is time to get this all back to how it could be or should be,” she said.

Potter made the motion to follow Tanksley’s advice, and additionally not to pay rent or the management fee to the city until her investigation was complete.

Commissioner Jo Ann Brumfield seconded the motion, which passed unanimously.