Audit questions spending at Alabama Tourism Department - WSFA.com: News Weather and Sports for Montgomery, AL.

Audit questions spending at Alabama Tourism Department

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

An audit by the Examiners of Public Accounts questioned payments the Alabama Tourism Department paid a regional travel organization. Those payments were $250,000 more than the amount allowed by law.

The payments were made to the Southern Travel Directors Council, also known as Travel South USA, an organization that hosts travel showcases and promotes tourism in 11 southern states.

The organization is only supposed to receive $15,000 in dues or payments in support of its operations from Alabama, but the audit found the state exceeded that amount in each of the fiscal years studied.

In Fiscal Year 2012, that amount paid was $75,710, which is five times the amount allowed by statute. The Tourism Department contended the additional amounts were for services rendered by Travel South, which is allowed.  But the audit found the department could not provide professional service agreements for those services and determined the additional amounts "should be considered payments in support of the council" and exceed the limit allowed by law.

The auditors found that any amount over $15,000 should be result from contracts, and those contracts should be submitted to the Contract Review Permanent Legislative Oversight Committee.

Lee Sentell, Director of the Alabama Tourism Department, told WSFA 12 News he agreed with the auditors' findings, and said the Department would work with the Legislative Oversight Committee to comply with state law.

He also said Travel South is a good investment for the state, as the yearly showcases and marketing materials provide exposure that the state otherwise would not receive.

"It's much more efficient to bring tour operators and travel agents and travel writers to a gathering of 11 southern states, instead of one state at a time," said Lee Sentell, Director of the Alabama Tourism Department. ""It's a much more productive and cost efficient way to do business."

Sentell serves on the board of Travel South, along with other tourism officials from member states.

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