CVB rent debt may be forgiven

September 15, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

City of Hagerstown officials are considering a proposal to forgive $7,800 in back rent that the Hagerstown-Washington County Convention and Visitors Bureau owes the city, officials said this week.

City officials said the CVB, which was created by state law to promote local tourism, currently is paying rent on time.

The unpaid rent dates back about four years, CVB President and CEO Thomas Riford said on Tuesday.

The City Council allowed the CVB to delay paying some rent shortly after it refurbished part of the Elizabeth Hager Center on North Potomac Street and moved its tourism center into that space. The unpaid portion amounted to the $7,800 now under discussion.


While no formal proposal to relieve the CVB of the debt to the city has been sent to city officials, Riford said "we had talked about" the plans with city officials. City officials confirmed those discussions.

Riford said the request to the city to forgive rent is part of a broader effort to bring the CVB out of debt. Riford said a financial audit earlier this year showed his organization was about $180,000 in debt, which included past-due bills and loans.

Riford took the post in March after the former top executive was forced to resign after allegations arose that he misappropriated CVB funds. The former executive director pleaded guilty in March to theft of more than $15,000 from the CVB.

Riford said part of the effort to reduce the CVB's debt has been to ask for debt forgiveness from the county and city governments, Riford said.

To help pay for promotions surrounding a national Corvette convention held in Hagerstown last year, the county advanced the CVB $20,000 from a portion of its proceeds of the hotel-motel tax, Riford said.

At the time, the county wanted the CVB to repay the money this year. But because of its financial situation, the CVB asked the commissioners to forgive that debt, which they did recently.

The debt forgiveness the CVB is seeking from the city would not affect the portion of the city's budget that comes from taxpayer money, Mayor William M. Breichner said. The Elizabeth Hager Center is considered as a separate part of the budget that is self-supporting through rent.

"It's not going to cause a deficit in our enterprise fund for that building," Breichner said. "We're in fairly good shape there."

Riford said the request makes sense because the CVB helps foster tourism in the city by sponsoring local events, including Blues Fest, Augustoberfest and Elvis Lives.

"The city and the CVB have a relationship that is mutually beneficial," Riford said.

Asked if the CVB was being given preferential treatment, Riford said, "I don't even want to hear that in the same sentence with anything that I have to say. ... It's not in preference. ... This is only on this one thing."

Breichner said he was open to the proposal.

"I think Riford's trying to cut his costs down. ... Keeping in good faith, it would be something I would think the City Council would be willing to accept."

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