Originally posted March 8, 2013 at 12:14 PM
by Al Gray
A journey for this writer that began about a year ago concluded on Monday, February 11, 2013 with a presentation before the Finance Committee of the Augusta City Commission. Commissioners Wayne Guilfoyle and Bill Lockett had requested a final act of assistance with respect to the tumultuous Tee Center operating agreements in the form of an analysis of the proposed Tee Center plan and budget that had been submitted by Augusta Convention Center operator Augusta Convention Center Management LLC (ACCMLLC), a subsidiary of Augusta Riverfront LLC and a related entity to Morris Communications, publisher of the Augusta Chronicle.
The Chronicle local government writer who reported on the meeting made no mention of my report, which was very kindly received by all of the commissioners.
The analysis provided was compiled in a very rapid fashion, as is customary with Augusta events, but questioned about $323,000 of costs (the revised schedule accompanying this article is somewhat higher from factors mentioned in the discussion) within the budgeted loss of $804,000. The discussion, key issues, and related amounts are as follows:
The inclusion of $10,048 for vacation and holidays had been questioned because budgeting 2080 hours indicated that the costs were included elsewhere in salaries. This was not seriously contested and it was agreed that using the figures for imprecise budgeting would not be determinant of the actual costs paid.
Since access to the management company’s records was not afforded Augusta, one had to assume that nothing else was in the “Payroll tax” line item besides payroll taxes, hence $24,626 in unidentifiable costs were questioned. ACCMLLC responded that there were insurance costs and 401k costs in the figure. The response was unsurprising and those other costs are defensible.
Credit card fees at $3,702 were questioned, because catering that would have generated heavy credit card usage has been stripped from the final agreement, leaving only event organizers as the only likely payers. ACCMLLC contested that assumption, but not totally convincingly, in this observer’s estimation.
Various maintenance items were questioned at $7,800, because the facility would be under warranty for a year, but this analyst had missed the fact that ACCMLLC showed those expenses starting in later months of operation. ACCMLLC convincingly answered that question.
Property Insurance at $48,000 was listed, despite the fact that property insurance was specifically to be bought separately by Augusta, not by the manager. The response was that the description was incomplete, with other insurance being included.
Electrical power was budgeted at 10 to 11 cents per kilowatt hour, whereas Georgia Power has special rates of as little as 3.5 cents per kilowatt hour. The amount questioned of about $115,000 was the difference in the average industrial rate in Georgia of 5.5 cents and the 11 cents budgeted. The response was that after some 6 months or so of experience, rates would be negotiated with Georgia Power. This writer is of the opinion that this was a cost that the manager should have negotiated in advance.
ACCMLLC had provided no figures for the labor costs of Tee Center employees when they work for the Marriott Hotel or existing conference center project, for which Augusta bears no costs. 50% of designated management employees and 20% of other employees produced an estimated $113,760 in question. This issue was not specifically addressed in the meeting other than that the audit of actual costs would catch any credit or refunds due to Augusta. Discussion ensued that the city must show extreme diligence in administering the Convention Center contracts, because there are 4 entities with separate accounting and contract treatment, despite the “Augusta Convention Center” moniker being used to refer to the overall facility, even extending to the titles on the plan and budget.
A suggestion was made to have the Tee Center accountant transferred over to Augusta, but that recommendation was not met with any approval.
A commissioner asked what the recommendation would be for approving the budget. The response here was that a budget should not be the basis for rejecting the plan, that it was probably wise to provide a cushion because no one wants to revisit it later in the year, and that respect for property rights attendant with approving the operating contract meant that the plan should be approved.
So many assurances beyond those in the contracts are on video at this point that it will be hard for the parties on either side to renege without generating a firestorm.
Everyone involved is Tee-totally exhausted.
Your correspondent would like to thank the City of Augusta for this opportunity. Doing the Augusta Project for a year and 3 months including the Tee Center before adding the Falcons’ Stadium project last month, provided simply stunning chances to expand knowledge into new areas of expertise especially Convention Centers. The Augusta Project is over, all objectives were attained with stunning success, and now the next phase will begin.
Thriving on the unconventional for the last 30 years has turned ‘boring’ accounting into a lot of fun.Now it will be fun to be able to market convention center expertise learned from the pros down on Reynolds Street.
To the citizens of Augusta, thank you for your kind support. Together all can strive to fix Augusta, as best we can. If Augusta can be fixed – do not underestimate the strides that have been made – anything is possible.