Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Taxpayer Money Goes to Chamber ; Go Topeka Pays out Nearly $1.5 Million in Reimbursements

Newspaper article The Topeka Capital-Journal

Taxpayer Money Goes to Chamber ; Go Topeka Pays out Nearly $1.5 Million in Reimbursements

Article excerpt

For the past three years, Go Topeka has paid nearly $1.5 million of its countywide half-cent sales tax money to the Greater Topeka Chamber of Commerce.

Another $922,657 in reimbursements to the Chamber came from private donations between Sept. 1, 2011, and July 31, 2014.

The Topeka Capital-Journal filed a records request for an itemized list of reimbursements to the Chamber since Sept. 1, 2011. Go Topeka provided the data free of charge.

The reimbursements are in line with a service agreement between the parties that has existed since 2000. A request sent Friday is pending for records relating to the first 11 years of the agreement.

Since 2005, Go Topeka has managed the $5 million in annual economic development revenue generated by a countywide, half-cent sales tax. The Joint Economic Development Organization, a body of city and county elected officials, governs the roughly $14 million generated from the sales tax each year.

The reimbursement information shows, for the past three years, $1.46 million of those public dollars have gone to pay the Chamber for salaries, travel and meetings, office and janitorial work and telephone usage.

"While potentially confusing to someone evaluating our structure from the outside, the Chamber and Go Topeka have found that sharing employees and expenses has been beneficial," said Scott Smathers, vice president of economic development with Go Topeka.

For example, he said, the agreement helps reduce expenses and administrative costs, because Go Topeka staff technically are employees of the Chamber.

"If they were employees of both organizations, each organization would need to provide for payroll and the costs and administration that goes with having employees," Smathers said. "Similarly, sharing space allows some cost savings (compared to maintaining separate spaces, reception staff and leases), and allows the organizations' complimentary goals and programs to be located in one convenient place."

The updated contract from September 2011 states the Go Topeka and the Chamber evenly split the monthly $558.92 payments for a Topeka Country Club membership, for example. …

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