Some members do not want to fund until they get answers

Christopher Maher, Alice Echo-News Journal

With the City of Alice budget season underway, some city council members are asking for more oversight of the Alice Convention and Visitors Bureau and the Alice/Jim Wells County Economic Development Corporation before funding is allocated to the entities this year.

During budget workshops last month, several city council members expressed concerns that they could not get a clear indication of where $65,000 that is allocated each year to the EDC and $90,000 that is allocated to the CVB is being spent.

Council Member Shane Valverde said he wants to have a clear picture of what the entities are doing with the city's money before approving more funding this year.

"We have a responsibility to the taxpayers. When you're investing money, I don't care if it's as a business investor or as a public servant investing tax dollars into something, you have responsibility to whoever you are held accountable to to have some oversight," Valverde said. "We haven't seen performance reports for quite some time, so there is no tangible way to gauge the impact that we are getting for those tax dollars we are investing."

Valverde said the CVB is required to provide an annual financial audit as well as quarterly updates to the city, and the EDC is required to provide an annual financial audit with twice-yearly updates. Those have not been provided regularly, Valverde said.

Valverde stressed he does not feel the money is being misspent, his concern is that the council is not aware of the returns that investment is bringing to the city.

"I'm not willing to put forth a dollar until we know that it's being spent effectively, and that we're doing the best job we can for the taxpayers," Valverde said.

City Council Member Dorella Elizondo agreed there needs to be better communication between the city and the CVB, but said she has been impressed with CVB board president Yvette Johnson.

"I've seen a lot of improvement," Elizondo said. "I've seen leadership that I've been impressed with."

Elizondo said although she has confidence in the leadership, she wants to see the Alice Chamber of Commerce budget and the CVB budget before approving more funding.

CVB and Alice Chamber of Commerce representatives Mike Smith and Juan Navejar said Friday they believe confusion has occurred because of a lack of communication with the new council, which was elected in May of this year.

Both Smith and Navejar stressed the CVB and the Chamber of Commerce are separate entities, although they are located in the same building and have the same employees. The CVB is funded through a hotel and motel tax and the city budget, while the chamber is funded exclusively through membership dues and fundraisers. Although the city has no oversight over the chamber of commerce, both Smith and Navejar said they would be willing to provide a chamber budget to the council for review.

"We're required to present a quarterly report and quarterly financials to the city (for the CVB), and we do that every quarter," Navejar said. "That is the only thing we're accountable for to the city."

Of the $90,000 paid to the CVB by the city, Smith said only 30 percent is used for administrative costs for the facility and partially for salaries, while the remaining 70 percent is used for promotion of the city.

That promotion includes advertising, distribution of flyers, mailing of packets with information about the city and answering general questions.

Both acknowledged that a yearly audit has not been provided to the city on a regular basis in the past, but said that was due to problems with the auditor, not with the CVB administration.

"We've got nothing to hide here," Smith said. "Come and look at us."

When asked about the council's concerns regarding lack of oversight of the EDC Friday, EDC Executive Director Dean Kruckenberg said the council and the county have clear oversight of the organization.

"The way they get their oversight is that the city has two representatives on our board," Kruckenberg said. "And the county has two representatives. So if anybody from either one of those entities has a question, they have representatives on our board to ask a question."

The two city representatives on the EDC board are Alice Mayor Grace Saenz-Lopez and Valverde, who was recently appointed.

Regarding the question of why a financial review and twice-annual updates have not been presented to the council, Kruckenberg said he provided a financial review and update to the council in February, before the new council was elected.

"This council wasn't even elected when I was over there in February," Kruckenberg said. "Since they've been on the city council, they've said they're not getting any information. Well, that was provided before they got there."

Kruckenberg said a second report that was due in July has not yet been provided because he was waiting for a project to be finalized.

Smith agreed with Valverde the confusion is the result of a lack of communication, and said he believes the relationship will improve.

"We've got to work better together," Smith said. "I don't think there's any problem at all. I think this is just growing pains with the new council and the new administration at the city."