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Lake Erie Shores and Islands East wins clean audit award

Tom Jackson • Jul 13, 2014 at 6:00 PM


Erie County's visitor bureau, which gets more than $2 million a year in taxpayer money to market local tourism, has been given a state award for a clean audit.

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost gave the "Auditor of State" award to Lake Erie Shores & Islands East, which is located at 4424 Milan Road in Perkins Township.

Dawn Weinhardt, managing director of the agency, said her organization was pleased to get the award.

"It proves that we are doing all of the things we are supposed to do to keep our accounting records clean and to show that people of Erie County that we are good stewards of the funds we receive," she said.

Most of the agency's funding comes from a 2 percent bed tax levied on hotel bills in Erie County.

During the visitor bureau's last fiscal year, which ended on Sept. 30, Lake Erie Shores & Islands East received $2.3 million in bed tax money.

Working in a partnership with Ottawa County's visitor bureau, it used the money to market tourism in Erie and Ottawa counties in a number of ways, including distributing a printed visitor's guide, publishing a website, using social media such as Twitter and Facebook, and paying for TV, radio, Internet, print and billboard advertising. The money also pays to send bureau officials to trade shows, where they work to attract conventions to places such as Sawmill Creek and Kalahari.

In addition, employees answer questions from tourists over the phone and in person. The visitors bureau also brings in travel writers and bloggers who are willing to write about the area's attractions.

Yost's office says the award is given to government entities and groups receiving taxpayer funds when a state audit does not contain findings for recovery, material citations, material weaknesses, significant deficiencies, Single Audit findings or any questioned costs.

Carrie Bartunek, a spokeswoman for the auditor's office, said a "finding for recovery" means that an audit uncovered the fact that money was being stolen or misspent. The other terms refer to whether the agency has strong internal controls to prevent money from being misspent and follows rules for spending any federal money it may receive, she said.

"In a nutshell, it means that they had a clean audit and they didn't have any significant issues," she said.

The tourism spending that the visitors bureau promotes underpins the local economy and generates much of the revenue taken in by local governments.

For example, the county sales tax brings in about $14 million.

There's no way to know how much of that comes from spending from visitors — any figure is a guess, said Pat Shenigo, an Erie County commissioner.

Still, it's been estimated that tourism and tourist-related spending accounts for 40 percent to 50 percent of the sales tax revenue, Shenigo said. 

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