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City requests Chamber pay back $241K in visitor bureau funds
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The City of Turlock is alleging that the Turlock Chamber of Commerce spent $241,297.07 of taxpayer dollars on items not permitted under the Convention and Visitors Bureau contract, an agreement the Chamber has executed for the past 24 years.

In February, the Turlock Chamber of Commerce submitted a letter of resignation to terminate services to operate the CVB, an organization that is taxed with bringing tourists to town. The CVB is funded by Transit Occupancy Tax dollars, or money generated when visitors stay in local hotels.

In closing out the contract with the Chamber for the CVB services, which technically ends on May 3, the City of Turlock performed an audit dating back five years. In documents released Friday, the City alleges the audit found the Chamber spent money improperly according to the contract. The contract between the City of Turlock and the Chamber of Commerce it states: “The Chamber shall manage a CVB which shall be a part of Chamber but a separate corporation for accounting purposes only.”

On Friday, City Attorney Phaedra Norton sent Chamber President and CEO Sharon Silva a letter that states that 43 expenditures in the past five years did not qualify as permissible.

“Based upon the City’s preliminary determination, it appears that the total amount due to the City from 2009 through 2014, including potentially unallowable expenditures/journal entries/ transactions is $241,297.07,” reads the letter.

Audit documents provided by the City show that CVB dollars were spent on Chamber items including $10,000 “for various Chamber events funding” in 2013; $1,353 for “Best of Turlock stuff” in 2010; and $7,000 for “map to pay for scholarships” in 2009.

The City is also requesting information for “unallowable expenditures” on electronics and travel costs amongst other items.

Administrative Services Director Kellie Jacobs-Hunt will be presenting a staff update on the winding down of the agreement between the City and the Chamber to operate the CVB at Tuesday's City Council meeting.

“To keep the trust in City Hall, I felt it was appropriate to add an update on CVB close out efforts to Tuesday night’s agenda,” said Mayor Gary Soiseth. “As public officials we have the obligation to make sure all tax dollars are spent not only wisely, but also appropriately.”

The Turlock City Council will convene at 6 p.m. on Tuesday in the Yosemite Board Room at City Hall located at 156 S. Broadway.