Osceola County audit questions use of tourism tax dollars

Osceola County has a tourism contract with the United States Specialty Sports Association, or USSSA, and an audit of the dealings with that company is raising serious red flags. In the six-page report (PDF), it details how the county and USSSA completely disagree on the language of how to calculate room nights. In the deal signed in 2004, Osceola County agreed to pay USSSA $3 of tourist tax money for each room night the sports organization booked over 25,600 rooms up to a total of $200,000 dollars.

During the audit years of 2013 and 2014, the county learned the USSSA was not only claiming hotel bookings, but also each bedroom of any vacation time share or home rental was counted as a single night. There was really nothing the county could do about that dispute because of the ambiguous language of the contract. Commissioner Michael Harford was the only one to speak about the problem when it was presented to Commission, and plans to change those terms when new deals are struck.

"We ran into an issue because we didn't properly get some definition out there."

The county did not ask USSSA to be at the meeting, and they also did not ask Experience Kissimmee to be there either. The tourism agency for the county is responsible for collecting the invoices and giving them to the county. According to the audit, neither agency was verifying each receipt before turning it over to the county. We wanted to ask the county why those receipts were not verified, and how much money they potentially gave to USSSA that they should not have. The county refused our request for an interview but Spokesman Mark Pino sent us this statement:

The Commission Auditor's report identified vague language used in the 2004 adopted agreement with USSSA. Moving forward, contractual agreements identifying reimbursement from event room nights will be crafted in clear, concise terms. Both USSSA and Osceola County fully complied with the agreement, but came to somewhat differing opinions over the adopted language -- an oversight that will be remedied in the future.

The audit went much further than that though, accusing USSSA of claiming 280 room nights for 14 people for a week long tournament. The auditor believes they should have claimed a maximum of 98 room nights. The auditor also says USSSA claimed room nights when a team stayed at an RV resort, and claimed more bedrooms for a vacation rental than any unit that was offered at that resort.

We spoke with the President of the USSSA who told us they simply followed the rules of the contract and have done nothing wrong.