State seeks more oversight for Bremerton conference center

BREMERTON — The conference center in Bremerton needs better oversight to ensure no taxpayer money is misused, the state auditor’s office said.

Auditors determined some sales records were missing at the Kitsap Conference Center at the Bremerton Harborside, The Kitsap Sun reported. Cash bar receipts weren’t all retained to ensure their accuracy, and more than $500 in reported sales weren’t deposited in the center’s bank account.

The review said the city’s contract with the company that runs the center, Columbia Hospitality, lacks requirements about how the sales should be deposited.

“These weaknesses in the monitoring and oversight of the conference center management contract increase the risk that public funds could be misused or misappropriated and not be identified in a timely manner, if at all,” said the audit finding, published in late November.

The audit recommends three changes to the city: that staffers outline what costs Columbia Hospitality can pay with city funds; that the city better track conference center expenses for “reasonableness”; and that the agreement should clarify how Columbia deposits earnings and withdraws expenses.

Mayor Patty Lent said the report came as a surprise, but the city and the center’s management have been working on many of the recommendations.

Auditors also found:

•At least $7,390 in spending by Columbia could not be justified by the contract.

Free meals were provided to Columbia staff, or staff was reimbursed $8 if they could not eat at the kitchen.

A $4,500 change fund was “inappropriately” used as a petty cash fund. That fund was short almost $800 in March, and Columbia doesn’t know where the money went.

Columbia Hospitality changed its personnel after the shortfall was discovered, Lent said. She plans to meet with company executives in January to discuss how better accounting controls can be written into the contract.

Columbia Hospitality didn’t immediately return an email or phone call from The Associated Press seeking comment.

The city is overseeing a $1.1 million expansion of the conference center, slated for completion in the spring.

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Information from: Kitsap Sun, http://www.kitsapsun.com/

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