Tourism audit focus of May 4 St. Helens City Council meeting
St. Helens city councilors are taking a close look at their arrangement with their longtime event coordinator following a recently released audit of tourism expenditures.
The St. Helens City Council will be discussing whether to sign a new independent contractor agreement with city event coordinator Tina Curry, at a work session to be held Wednesday afternoon, May 4.
The council will also consider a recently released audit of tourism expenditures that were the subject of a heated City Council session on Dec. 29.
At the December meeting, city officials questioned Curry's reporting of tourism expenses. Curry's contract was allowed to expire Dec. 31, with the city intending to replace the contract with a revised version.
Under contract in St. Helens since 2017, Curry, an independent contractor for the city, with E2C Corp., organizes community events, including the nationally known Spirit of Halloweentown.
At the December meeting, Councilor Jessica Chilton questioned why actual tourism expenses for 2021 and 2022 were under $200,000, when, in previous years, expenses had been around $500,000. Chilton, referring to a committee report, called that "a huge shift."
The finance director for St. Helens, Matt Brown, informed council members that the difference is in how Curry calculates those expenses. Brown noted at the meeting that he has hadn't seen about $315,000 in expenses listed.
"That would be the difference between $200,000 and $500,000," he said at the time. "I have yet to receive a report."
The recently released draft audit of tourism expenses, conducted by Merina+Co of Tualatin, covered a period from July 1, 2021, through Jan. 31, 2022.
The audit report notes "a lack of documentation for store and event deposits," adding that the auditors were "unable to determine whether all cash from store deposits or Halloweentown events were deposited into the city's bank account."
According to the audit, total ticket sales for the period of June 1, 2021, through Dec. 31, 2021 were $927,265 net of processing fees. Of that amount, $612,036 was deposited to the city, and $311,309 was used to cover event and store product expenses.
"There is a variance of $3,920," the audit report states.
Contacted regarding the audit report, city administrator John Walsh pointed out that "the findings accounted for nearly all expenses with some exception for payments to prize winners and community groups, which lacked sufficient itemization."
Contacted by the Spotlight ahead of the City Council meeting, Curry said, "All of the money was accounted for. All of the checks were accounted for. The only part that we didn't score 100 percent on was in itemization of some of the deposits that are made from ticket sales. They were deposited, but under the direction of the city, they weren't categorized as stringently as they want for an audit, but the money got deposited, but it was just listed as general income."
Curry said she was supportive of the audit at the December meeting.
"It's really simple. We have every receipt," she said at the time. "So, we can give you envelopes with receipts in them. You can compare and stare and add them up and you'll see that they match."
The topic of Curry's contract with the city is on the agenda for both the 1 p.m. work session and the 7 p.m. regular session on Wednesday.
Editor's note: This story has been updated with comment from St. Helens' event coordinator.
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.