Chamber financials reflect inconsistencies

BLYTHEWOOD – Whenever the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Mike Switzer requests additional funding for the chamber, council members generally have been willing to cough up more money.

As Blythewood council members plan to discuss increasing the total annual funding to the Chamber by more than $15,000 to $57,500, during a budget workshop Thursday, May 24, a review of public records, as well as a former chamber employee, signal several inconsistencies in chamber financials, raising questions about how accommodation tax funds and a town hall grant are actually being spent.

At Town Council’s April 23 meeting, for example, the Greater Blythewood Chamber of Commerce Executive Director, Mike Switzer, said the chamber needed additional funding to cover non-specific, additional costs incurred in running the visitor’s center.

“A lot of this deficit is startup costs of putting the extra hours into getting it (the center) up and running,” Switzer said. “The situation we have is the doors are open from 9-5. Before we signed the lease, we were already in there a year and our hours were 10-2. That’s what we could afford.”

According to its most recent federal tax return, the chamber claimed a deficit of $4,885 just months after reporting a $5,755 surplus.

Switzer called the numbers and their relation to visitor’s center finances “apples and oranges.”

Payroll doesn’t add up

In May 2017, Switzer requested $33,000 to run the visitor’s center, telling council members that $18,000 of that money would be spent on a part-time employee at a cost of $15 per hour for 20 hours plus FICA.

Council voted to approve the $18,500 specifically for that employee.

When contacted by The Voice, that employee, who is no longer employed at the visitor center, said she was only paid $10 per hour, not $15, for an annual payout of only $10,400.

A visitor’s center report provided to council last January raises more questions.  The report, which is broken down into two columns (2017 July 1 – Dec. 31) and (2018 Jan. 1 – June 30), shows a total revenue for fiscal year 2017-18 of $18,500 and expenses of more than $26,000 causing a deficit of $4,885 for July 1 – Dec. 31, 2017 and an anticipated deficit of $2,758 for Jan. 1 – June 30, 2018 for a total of $7,643. A $300 addition error in each column of expenses would, if corrected, bring the deficits even higher. Council voted 4-1 on April 23 to give the Chamber the additional $7,643 to cover the two deficits.

That’s where the report becomes difficult to follow. The visitor’s center payroll expenses are listed at $8,332 in each of the half-year columns. But the former visitor’s center employee said she only received $5,200, not $8,332 for the six month period ending Dec. 31, 2017. And the report anticipated another $8,332 the first half of 2018, leaving $3,132 in employee payroll unaccounted for in each half of the year for a total of $6,264.

When asked by The Voice, Switzer was unable to provide a breakdown of the $8,332 listed for payroll. There is also no explanation of how a fourth of the Chamber’s rent, insurance utilities, accounting and other expenses including office supplies and other items that were previously charged to the Chamber are now charged to the $18,500 that was earmarked for the visitor’s center employee.

In another instance, the chamber received $8,750 in accommodation tax funding for The 2017 Big Grab. Switzer charged $4,318 to staff expenses, breaking it down among three employees: the visitor’s center employee, $426; Switzer, $1,558 and Kitty Kelly (Switzer’s assistant), $2,234. But when contacted by The Voice, the visitor’s center employee said she was never paid the $426.

Budget incongruities aren’t limited to visitor’s center funding. Mismatching revenue figures provided by the Chamber are apparent in funding to promote the 2017 solar eclipse.

Eclipse the Park budget records list T-shirt revenues at “$5,000 (approximate),” although financial data obtained by The Voice pegs that figure at $9,991.

Sponsorship revenues showed a similar gap, with $750 listed in budget records and actual revenues of $4,500, documents show.

On May 4, The Voice issued a Freedom of Information Act request for annual budgets and profit and loss statements for the visitor’s center and chamber for the past five years.

“There will be costs associated and I will get those to you as soon as time allows,” Switzer said via email on May 8. “We have, as always, a lot of work going on right now.  I will bring all of this to our next board meeting on the 15th and get back to you after that.”

The Voice had not received the requested documents at press time.

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