Question Raised on Sales Methods at Cultural Center
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Members of the Largo City Commission struggled Monday night to wrap up the fiscal year 2011 budget while an aspect of how the Cultural Center is run was divulged that explains, to some degree, the anomaly in revenue figures for the concession there.
Revelation of how sales are handled at the center came about independent of any developments at Monday night's budget review meeting.
Sources said that there is a cash register at the Cultural Center concession area but the drawer stays open, a violation of sensible business practice and perhaps a violation of the law.
Cash registers are designed to record all money transactions on a printed tape, which is essential for anyone running a business and mandatory so that proper taxes can be collected.
Last June, when the commission examined an analysis of revenue and expenditures at the center, the question came up in reference to concessions as to how "direct expenses" were listed at $29,459 while revenue was listed as $64,824.
That means revenue was little more than double and because the concessions include beer, wine and whiskey sales, one experienced restaurateur said at the time, "These figures are wacky. Anyone in the business knows that in alcohol sales the standard is at least four for one, minimum."
A cash register drawer that remains open while goods are being sold is an open invitation to problems, one observer noted.
"You can have pilferage - a drink paid for but never recorded as a sale, drinks being given away, money being taken from the register. That all amounts to theft of one kind or another"" she said.
Another key element, a businessman pointed out, is the method of keeping track of sales for tax purposes if no cash register record exists. "The cash register is really the only way to accurately keep a record. If the register drawer remains open, then, obviously, the purpose of the register is eliminated."
There is absolutely no evidence of any criminal activity or wrongdoing at the Cultural Center, but the way of proceeding with sales raises many questions.
The Recreation, Parks and Arts Department is the only area of the city where cash transactions are carried out. What is happening at the Cultural Center raises questions about methods in other places in the system where cash is handled.
Taxpayers subsidize the Cultural Center to the tune of about half a million dollars a year - $10,000 a week, which is incredible in a failing economy and a city with a severe budget crunch.
At the hearing Monday night - there will be another one next Wednesday, September 22, when the public again has an opportunity to comment - the commission approved a tax rate of 4.3113, which was expected.
When the commission turned its attention to the budget itself, the Golf Course and the Cultural Center came in for stinging criticism with Commissioners Mary Black and Curtis Holmes being most vocal with pointed questions. Their colleagues remained silent, as they most often do.
Holmes pointed out the tons of cash being dumped into the Golf Course with no end in sight and once again hit on the $500,000 taxpayer subsidy of the Cultural Center in which Black joined him.
Most haunting of all in the 2011 budget figures is the numbers assigned to expected revenue from the Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) fund, popularly known as "Penny for Pinellas."
Listed as "revenue" in that fund is $25,109,400, which stretches the definition of the word "revenue" to its limits both in the ordinary sense and perhaps the legal meaning.
Actually, the estimate of money to come from Penny for Pinellas is $6,959,400, which some observers think is high.
Also included in the "revenue" figure is $59,000 "miscellaneous" and $91,000 from "interfund charges/transfers" which probably means it comes from the general fund.
The only hard and sure figure seems to be $18,000,000, which is listed as "debt proceeds."
"It looks like the eighteen million dollars has padded out the revenue," one observer said, "and that the other numbers are just squirreled around to make the totals come out."
In any event, even listing the $25,109,400 as "revenue," the expenditures under the Penny for Pinellas (LOST) umbrella are $29,461,700 - $4,352,300 short.
That shortage is made up from "Penny" money that was on hand.
Going into fiscal year 2010, the current year now ending, the Penny for Pinellas figure was first put at $6,363,000. It will fall woefully short of that with a listing of $5,700,000 having come in as the year runs out. That is $663,000 short.
"These are funny numbers," an observer said. "What is really troubling is that when you are padding your so-called income or 'revenue,' as the city is calling it, with borrowed money that is really disastrous."
Another serious area, under the umbrella of the Recreation, Parks and Arts Department, the biggest spender of all Largo departments at $28,703,600, is the golf course.
That area of publicly financed entertainment ends the year broke because the City Commission last week would not give it $20,000 to make its account "liquid."
The golf course is going to be handed $250,000 of taxpayer money in fiscal year 2011 for openers just to keep it alive. What is puzzling is the $475,000 listed for personnel costs.
Even with the diktat of no raises, that personnel cost is still up 5 percent over what it is in the current year.
And it is puzzling because that amount of money is split among 9.43 employees - an average of $50,371 per employee.
The boodle of more than $28.7 million that Joan Byrne, director of RPA, will have to spend is up 23 percent from last year.
In contrast to RPA's huge sum, Fire & Rescue has $21,816,200 to spend and the Police Department $19,723,500.
Put all three together in a total and RPA gets 41 percent of that total. "Whew! Talk about misplaced priorities!" one former member of the City Commission said.
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