Sacramento City Council committee declines to audit Convention Center finances

Despite concerns raised by a local watchdog group about the facility’s finances, a City Council committee denied a request Tuesday to launch an audit of the Sacramento Convention Center.

The council’s Audit Committee instead asked City Auditor Jorge Oseguera to place an examination of the Convention Center on a list of potential targets in 2014. The City Council will vote early next year on Oseguera’s proposed audit work plan, and the Convention Center will likely be one of six possible topics.

The request for an audit came as tourism officials are discussing a large expansion of the center.

Councilman Kevin McCarty requested last month that the Audit Committee consider directing Oseguera to examine the Convention Center following a report by Eye on Sacramento that raised questions about the use of hotel tax revenue for the facility and figures released by city officials touting the center as an economic activity driver.

McCarty said he was disappointed the Convention Center was not placed on the auditor’s to-do list.

“Legitimate issues and questions have been raised about Convention Center finances that warrant a thorough review and audit,” he said.

Oseguera said his staff members are tied up with other pending audits and members of the Audit Committee said they did not think an examination of the Convention Center was a priority.

“We want to be more efficient, and I don’t think it’s more efficient to grab things out of the air,” said Councilwoman Angelique Ashby. “I don’t think there’s anything that gives me angst to wait (to possibly audit the Convention Center) those four months.”

Eye on Sacramento has argued that more money from a tax on hotel rooms should be used on core city services, such as police and fire protection. Much of the cash now goes toward paying off debt on a 1996 expansion of the Convention Center and ongoing operation costs of the facility. The city collected $19.8 million in hotel tax last fiscal year and a portion of hotel taxes is funneled into the city’s general fund budget.

Oseguera said an audit of the Convention Center could examine how the hotel tax is spent and whether the facility could be operated more efficiently.

The Sacramento Convention and Visitors Bureau is in the early stages of developing a plan to expand the center, arguing that more exhibit and meeting space is needed for the facility to compete with centers in similar markets such as San Jose and Long Beach.

The bureau recently released drawings of an expanded center that were crafted by Populous, an international architectural firm. Those renderings showed a bigger center with a 50,000-square-foot ballroom atop the adjacent Community Center Theater on L Street that would provide conventioneers with dramatic views of Capitol Park and the downtown skyline.