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Our View: Visit Durango’s accounting needs serious transparency

Tourism organization’s invoices much too vague

Looking through invoices from Visit Durango, the area destination management and marketing organization, it’s startling how vague they are, devoid of proper accounting as to where lodgers tax money is actually going.

Considering 90% of Visit Durango’s $3.2 million annual budget comes from the lodgers tax collected by the city of Durango and La Plata County, an easy-to-see breakdown of deliverables is a basic expectation.

Visit Durango must provide specifics on expenditures –plainly – to receive this windfall of lodgers tax revenue. No room for sloppy accounting.

We don’t doubt work was done. We particularly like the organization’s “do not promote” list to prevent overuse of crowded destinations and its marketing during shoulder seasons. We’re certainly not making accusations.

But it may be time for Visit Durango to fold into the city, becoming one of its departments.

In January, the city transitioned to a fee-for-services invoice system 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 too broad descriptions and categories.

Some examples. In the first January 2024 invoice submitted, Visit Durango requested payment of $199,365.48. The item is “City Lodgers Tax Receivable” with a list under “Description,” to include 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 requested details and in a revised invoice, figures changed. When taking a closer look at numbers, this can happen. We get it. But overall, big-money categories and expenditures must be more exacting.

In a later January invoice, under Destination Management, events added include Dark Sky Campaign; Holiday Station; Spoketober; Durango Art Week; Event Marketing Grants and Sponsorships; Community Engagement Durango Wine Experience; and Community Engagement Earth Day.

No figures, no specifics.

Another revision matches costs with events. But the stack of documents gives the impression of the city pulling teeth to get itemized invoices.

In February, the invoice submitted is for $140,205.25, with the same lack of details as the first invoice in January. Destination Management $75,261.57; Marketing $36,917.41; Sales $12,263.52; and Welcome Center $15,762.75.

The rounds of revisions 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 referenced a meeting about “granular details.”

He also asked for specifics on the Care for Durango Stewardship Campaign, totaling $18,110.27, from January. Amounts paid to third parties, receipts, credit card statements and more.

Brown’s last day was May 31. Soon afterward, Board President Jenny Roberts resigned after it was discovered she has an extensive record of fraud convictions.

It’s a lot to take in.

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

The county collects a 2% tax on stays inside the county but outside city limits, all of which pass through to Visit Durango, about $1 million annually.

Earlier this year, the county floated the idea of reallocating up to half its 2% lodgers tax revenue. Voters could decide to slash Visit Durango’s budget by up to $500,000, or 15%.

This money could address child care access for workers, very much needed here.

But first things first.

Documents clearly show Visit Durango – or its next iteration – will have to conduct business in a new, transparent way.

Taxpayers will demand this.