Audit Demanded of Transactions at Cultural Center
By Leo Coughlin
LARGO - Commissioner Curtis Holmes at Tuesday's City Commission meeting called for an audit of the concession sales at the Cultural Center.
This added fuel to what has become a roaring controversy in the city with Joan Byrne, director of Parks and Recreation, in effect calling a citizen a liar in an email last week.
Byrne was flatly denying a report that the cash register drawer at the concession area at the Cultural Center was left open while sales were being made.
A citizen, Samantha Carter, emailed City Hall with the information that she, indeed, witnessed this fact.
She is one of many witnesses, including Holmes, who mentioned at Tuesday's meeting he was so alarmed by what he witnessed, months ago, that he had a conversation with Kim Adams, the city's Finance Director, inquiring how the city could pay sales tax where there is no record of the sales?
Holmes said, "Mister Adams told me he didn't audit the bar merely that he paid the sales tax based upon the records RP and A (Recreation, Parks and Arts) supplied."
There are others who have observed the open cash register drawer and those witnesses include members of Partners 'N Progress, a non-profit group whose membership is made up of ardent Cultural Center backers.
With the subject reaching the boiling point, Holmes called for more than a simple "we spent this much and took in this much" answer about concession sales.
He asked for the receipts on all purchases by the city of goods intended for sale. Because Byrne makes a point of "how many hours are spent complying with such requests," Holmes said he wanted the receipts themselves and that "he would do the math."
What he meant by that, he said, is that he will compare the money expended by the city for goods - soda, beer, wine, liquor, etc. - and the accepted ratio for revenue in the sale of such goods based upon Florida Department of Revenue wholesale to retain alcohol sales guidelines (for example, wine returns about $4 for every wholesale dollar spent; liquor as much as $10 for every $1 in cost).
Ratios in the sale of alcoholic products are more or less standard. This is one of the basic elements on which the state will estimate what it is due in taxes in such sales.
Carter, in her email last week, cited a case where she had been employed and the business "was substantially penalized" by the state because an audit showed the establishment "did not record and report bar sales honestly."
It is a cash register that keeps a recorded and written tally on sales that governs a business's inventory, and determines a basis for paying taxes on goods sold.
Carter's email went on to say - "Not long ago we attended an event at the Cultural Center and I purchased a glass of wine. What I found so unusual your staff didn't ring up the sale, just reached into the drawer to make change … and like my former employer they, too, left the drawer ajar. Perhaps under Florida law a city doesn't have to report sales. I just wondered how can you keep track of your sales revenue if no one is keeping a record?"
This is Byrne's response to that, in its entirety -
"Dear Ms. Carter:Of course, that policies are in place is not a guarantee that such policies are enforced, and unless Byrne is physically present at all times the concession area operates she cannot know if the policies are being followed.
As to the payment of taxes to the state, the real question is whether the proper figures are submitted.
And that is the point of Holmes's request for a thorough audit. When the question first arose in June, Byrne's information reported that there had been "direct expenses" of $29,459 while revenue from sales was listed as $64,824.
This was so ludicrous it caused a hoot from those knowledgeable about such matters. That revenue from sales that included alcohol were little more than double the cost simply didn't stack up.
Then the revelation that the cash register drawer was left open while sales proceeded gave a clue to the apparently erroneous figures and that something could be amiss.
Again, Holmes himself said he witnessed the register drawer being left open as well as Partners N Progress members and many citizens, in addition to Carter, who said the same.
"That Miss Byrne wouldn't soften her answer to say that she would look into the matter," is a shock to me, a former commission member said. "After all, she has no direct knowledge of what is occurring, compared to what many eyewitnesses have said."
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