No immediate audit for Sacramento Convention Center

A city-ordered audit of the Sacramento Convention Center won’t happen any time soon, a panel of elected officials decided Tuesday.

The convention center has faced scrutiny ever since Eye on Sacramento, a tax-minded watchdog group, hammered the city-owned operation as a subsidy money pit in a report released last month.

On Sept. 10, Sacramento Councilman Kevin McCarty asked the city’s audit committee to consider looking into claims that the convention center misspent $218 million in city funds since 1999.

The center underwent a massive bond-funded expansion in 1996 to compete with convention centers around California. To whittle away the debt, Sacramento officials OKed spending nearly all of its transient occupancy tax fund—roughly $16 million a year—on the center.

At its Oct. 8 meeting, the committee, which is made up of McCarty’s council colleagues, decided against auditing the convention center this year, in part because of the auditor’s current workload.

Auditor Jose Oseguera said his three-person staff was busy finishing up two other investigations, including one into city employee’s supplemental pay that should be completed in mid-December.

Council members Angelique Ashby, Jay Schenirer and Allen Warren agreed there was no rush, but for different reasons.

“If the council wants to decide through the budget process that we don’t want to subsidize the convention center any more, that’s a policy decision, not an audit matter,” Schenirer said. “I’m perfectly comfortable not moving forward with anything at the moment.”

Ashby counseled against “choosing audits in a vacuum.”

“I don’t think it’s more efficient to just pull things out of the air,” the vice mayor added, suggesting the committee could reexamine its auditing priorities early next year.

Along with last month’s Eye on Sacramento report, a government consulting firm in 2010 identified inefficient management at the convention center. Most larger cities like Sacramento dedicated all or most of the taxes they collect from temporary lodgers to their respective general funds, which cover core services.

The consulting firm, Management Partners Inc., suggested the city could get closer to that benchmark by outsourcing the convention center’s management to a private company.

Oseguera estimated it would cost between $66,000 and $116,000 to hire an outside firm to audit the convention center.

The convention center is in talks to renew its bond debt by the end of the decade for another major expansion.

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