Visit Durango’s accounting needs serious transparency – The Durango Herald

Invoices from the tourist organization are far too vague

When you review the invoices from Visit Durango, the region’s management and marketing organization, it’s surprising how vague they are, with no proper accounting of where renters’ tax dollars actually go.

Since 90% of Visit Durango’s $3.2 million annual budget comes from renter taxes collected by the City of Durango and La Plata County, an overview of the results is a basic expectation.

Visit Durango must – clearly – provide details of its expenses in order to receive this windfall of tax revenue from tenants. No room for sloppy accounting.

We have no doubt that work has been done. We are particularly pleased with the organization’s ‘do not promote’ list to prevent overuse of busy destinations and their marketing during shoulder seasons. We certainly do not make any accusations.

But perhaps it is time for Visit Durango to also settle in the city and become one of its departments.

In January, the city switched to a billing system for services and asked Visit Durango to submit itemized invoices before receiving reimbursement each month. Yet documents from a Colorado Open Records request show rounds of revisions with overly broad descriptions and categories.

A few examples. On the first invoice dated January 2024, Visit Durango requested payment of $199,365.48. The item is ‘City Lodgers Tax Receivable’ listed under ‘Description’, including Destination Management, amount $70,600.92; Marketing $80,895.66; Sales $10,736.78; Operations $17,125.86; and Welcome Center $20,006.26.

The city asked for details and a revised invoice changed the figures. If you take a closer look at the numbers, this can happen. We understand it. But in general, the categories and expenses with large amounts should be more demanding.

On a later January bill, under Destination Management, added events include Dark Sky Campaign; Holiday station; Spoketober; Durango Art Week; Event marketing grants and sponsorship; Community Engagement Durango Wine Experience; and Earth Day for community engagement.

No numbers, no details.

Another review compares costs to events. But the stack of documents gives the impression that the city is making efforts to obtain itemized invoices.

In February, the bill submitted was $140,205.25, with the same lack of detail as the first bill in January. Zoning Administration $75,261.57; Marketing $36,917.41; Sales $12,263.52; and Welcome Center $15,762.75.

The revision rounds begin again.

According to an email, city budget manager Elliot Fitz requested backup documents from Executive Director Rachel Brown for line items for January, February and March 2024, which were paid on May 10. He referred to a meeting on “detailed details.”

He also asked for details on the Care for Durango Stewardship Campaign, which totaled $18,110.27 as of January. Amounts paid to third parties, receipts, credit card statements and more.

Brown’s last day was May 31. Shortly afterwards, board chair Jenny Roberts resigned after it was discovered that she has an extensive record of fraud convictions.

It’s a lot to take in.

The city levies a 5.25% tax on short-term stays within city limits. The city passes 55% of this tax on to Visit Durango – about $1.9 million last year.

The county collects a 2% tax on stays within the county but outside the city limits, all of which flows through to Visit Durango, about $1 million per year.

Earlier this year, the province floated the idea of ​​redistributing up to half of the 2% tax revenue for renters. Voters could decide to cut Visit Durango’s budget by up to $500,000, or 15%.

This money could provide access to childcare for employees, something that is desperately needed here.

But first things first.

Documents make it clear that Visit Durango – or its next iteration – will have to do business in a new, transparent way.

Taxpayers will demand this.