An independent audit of the Tourist Development Tax (TDT) program requested late last year by the Tourism Development Council (TDC) remains in bureaucratic limbo. The audit seeks to better understand how funds are allocated by the program and how that compares with similar counties. Previous audits have found problems with the way the Clerk of the Circuit Court and county administrators manage funds in nearby counties. Despite this, the Escambia County Clerk of Court and Comptroller continues to resist the TDC’s efforts to move forward with the audit.
“Outside of the overall county annual budget, there is no real independent audit reviewing either the clerk’s expenditures or the county’s expenditures of TDT to ensure they comply with the statute and ordinances authorizing those activities,” David Bear, Chair of the TDC told the Pensacola News Journal in December.
Bear contends that for the TDC to properly perform its role, the TDC needs a more robust understanding with more complete information regarding TDT funds, and hopes an audit will help provide this information.
A similar audit performed in Walton County found that the Walton County Board of County Commissioners had failed to adopt “written policies or procedures for calculating administrative charges to the Tourist Development Council…” and that the Clerk of the Circuit Court had failed to develop “a cost allocation methodology to support the administrative costs charged for administering the tourist development tax.”
In light of these findings in, the Florida Auditor General recommended that the Walton County Clerk should create a method of allocating and withholding funds from the TDC that were only related to actual administrative costs. Bear believes these findings should be used a precedent and are likely to apply in Escambia County as well- suggesting that the Childers and the Clerk’s office should develop and document a cost allocation methodology to support the costs for administering the TDT and withhold from the TDC only those amounts related to actual administrative costs.
Escambia County Clerk and Comptroller Pam Childers disagrees that the audit Mr. Bear requests would be beneficial, despite these previous findings.
“I don’t see this as a high risk area. I would not call for an audit.” Childers told the PNJ in December.
Since the original request, the back and forth between the TDC and the Clerk’s office has continued while, to date, no audit has been performed. However, significant questions continue to arise regarding the lack of detailed policy concerning TDT funds.
At the TDC’s last meeting Bear recommended that the TDC ask for an Attorney General Opinion so that the board may report to the Escambia County Board of County Commissioners and the Department of Revenue if additional funds over the actual cost to administer the TDT program is an unauthorized use of the TDT.
“TDC’s authority or responsibility, their obligation, is to review all expenditures of tax revenue, of TDT tax revenues, and report to the County Commission on its highest and best use for developing tourism,” Bear stated in December. “If we’re not informed of those items, how can we make those recommendations? If we’re obligated to review them, and they’re not presented to us, how are we supposed to get those and understand those? So how can we do our job as a TDC?”
The TDC meets and discusses the status of the audit on 2/9/21
TDC Chair David Bear suggests getting an Attorney General Opinion regarding the audit of the TDT program.