City of Wichita addresses apparent inaccuracies with financial records concerning hotel tax, Century II

Published: Sep. 10, 2020 at 9:22 PM CDT
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WICHITA, Kan. (KWCH) - A Wichita woman filed a complaint with Sedgwick County prosecutors after she said inaccurate documents were sent to her after she made a Kansas Open Records request from the City of Wichita. FactFinder 12 combed through those documents and the city admits mistakes were made.

For Celeste Racette, the inaccuracies concerned the city’s transient guest tax or its “hotel tax.” She said she noticed that money from the tax did not appear to be going where it was supposed to.

“I had filed a Kansas Open Records Act for the years 2019 back to 2013, and in looking at the entries, I realized that they just didn’t make sense, that what had been purchased for let’s say, Century II, wasn’t really for Century II.”

Racette is the head of the group, “Save Century II,” which is why she was interested in the documents she requested from the City of Wichita. A former investigator for FDIC, she said the money trail just didn’t lead where it was supposed to.

“Well, what I’ve uncovered is sort of dismaying, but there are a lot of transactions starting in 2019 going back that have been incorrectly labeled transactions so that you can’t look at a report and understand how the money was spent,” Racette said.

Using the city’s annual financial report from 2014 gives an example to show what Racette means. In that report, you’d see that $109,127 was payable from the hotel tax, but when Racette compared that to a summary of the city’s financial transactions, she found that the same amount, $109,127, had not gone to pay for the Fairfield Inn, as intended, but instead went to pay for something at Century II.

The Fairfield Inn at Watermark is the four-story, 130-room hotel that the City of Wichita agreed to contribute $2.5 million to help the developer build it. In 210, the Wichita City Council voted to allow tax money generated by hotels to help pay that $2.5 million.

The same issue regarding the hotel and Wichita’s historic live-performance venue can be seen with at least four years since 2013. All of the documents FactFinder 12 examined show the hotel tax money was going to Century II, not the Fairfield Inn. The city admitted that’s a mistake.

Wichita City Treasurer Mark Manning said while the description of where the money went is wrong, the coding for the transaction was right and assured FactFinder 12 the money went where it was intended.

“Should the description have been more accurate? Possibly. You know, did we not make it as descriptive as it would have been nice for us to have made it? Probably, but it’s just not as important as the actual coding and the coding is correct,” Manning said.

But that is where Racette takes issue, filing the complaint with county prosecutors because she said, she didn’t get what she asked for.

“It’s impossible to look at these records and know where money is going,”she said.

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