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See Lancaster gets funding

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By Chris Sardelli

See Lancaster was put under the microscope at Tueday’s Lancaster City Council meeting, eventually receiving a portion of much-needed funding.

The organization, a non-profit group whose goal is promoting downtown business revitalization and economic development for Lancaster County, received $25,500 in funding from City Council.

The amount will cover See Lancaster’s standard operating expenses for January and February of 2009. Those expenses cost $11,000 per month, with the remaining amount of funding allocated to cover salary for the event coordinator position.

See Lancaster gets its funding from the city of Lancaster’s hospitality tax revenue, which comes from a 2 cent tax on each dollar paid for food and beverage at dining establishments within the city.

However, City Council voted to pull $198,000 of the group’s funding in the 2008-09 budget in June after a $75,000 shortfall in the Palmetto Thunder Air Show.

In the fallout, Frank Keel resigned as See Lancaster’s executive director and City Council ordered an audit of the organization’s books.

The audit has been completed by the accounting firm of Blair, Bohle & Whitsitt. Steve Johnston, partner at the firm, and accountant Mukesh Singh presented the results of the audit at Tuesday’s meeting, which looked at the fiscal year that ended on June 30, 2008.

After an extensive review, Johnston said there was not enough evidence to make any conclusive findings regarding the group’s accounting practices.

“We were unable to form an opinion as to the fairness of the financial statements,” he said. “Our opinion is they have the talent and capability to address and correct the issues of the audit.”

The firm made several recommendations to the See Lancaster board of directors. First, they suggested the organization consider engaging an outside group to handle the books. They also said the board should conduct surprise inspections, establish a system of approval for purchases, prohibit personal expenses on the organization’s credit card and adopt a complete annual budget and adhere to it throughout the year.

Eric Rowell, chairman of See Lancaster’s board of directors, was pleased with the audit’s outcome and recommendations. Rowell said the board has already started addressing the issues cited in the audit.

“They took the recommendations and ran with them,” Rowell said. “We’re in the process of outsourcing our finances and we’re looking at doing our own annual audit for the organization.”

Rowell lauded City Counci’s continued support. 

“I think City Council showed they are still supportive of See Lancaster and See Lancaster’s cause,” Rowell said.

Rowell expects the board will finalize a six-month plan soon. He looks forward to when the city will eventually allocate funding in annual increments.

Nancy Howell, volunteer/interim director for See Lancaster, also spoke at the meeting. She discussed the need for an executive director, but Council was reluctant to give funding for an interim director. Instead they will wait until a permanent replacement can be found.

“It’s very difficult for the two present staff members to function without someone in charge,” Howell said. “We have no one to oversee the operation.”

–  Contact reporter Chris Sardelli at 416-8416