The Mississippi Legislature's chief watchdog group says in a new report that the taxpayer-funded Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau has no working budget and spends more on personnel costs and less on advertising than other comparable tourism bureaus.
PEER also said that bureau employees haven't implemented or even referred to the organization's strategic plan and the JCVB's board hasn't re-evaluated in 20-plus years the economic model that the organization measures its economic impact.
The Joint Legislative Committee on Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, better known as the PEER Committee, released the report on November 26.
The Legislature added an amendment for a independent review to House Bill 1673 that reauthorized Jackson's 1 percent tourism tax, which is the primary revenue source for the Jackson Convention and Visitors Bureau. Last fiscal year, tourism tax revenues collected by the Mississippi Department of Revenue and diverted to the bureau for tourism promotion added up to $3,524,881, or most of the bureau's $4 million operating revenues.
PEER said the JCVB had no formal in-house operating budget and JCVB president/CEO Wanda C. Wilson approves spending authority on an as-needed basis. The bureau had to supplement its operating funds with $405,000 taken from its reserves in fiscal 2018, which ended June 30.
The means by which the JCVB measures its success were also faulted by PEER. The bureau uses collections of the 1 percent tax on restaurants and hotels and an economic model to compute the economic impact.
An outside consultant, Destination Services, that contributed to the PEER report said the JCVB was above 75 percent of comparable bureaus when expenditures for personnel costs were taken into account.
The consultant also recommended that the JCVB conduct semiannual performance reviews of its employees and freeze all salaries, except in the case of cost of living increase raises.
The JCVB has the largest staff of any convention and visitors bureau in the state with 19 full-time and four part-time employees. Last year, the CVB spent 37 percent of its funds on personnel costs and this year, the same expense absorbed 43.3 percent of the bureau's revenues.
Destination Services also said that the bureau's nine sales people should be spending 80 percent of their time selling Jackson as a destination for events.
During Destination Services' auditing period, the JCVB's sales staff spent only 55 percent of their work time on sales calls, with most of the rest going to administrative duties.
While the report was positive about the city's advertising campaign, the analysts also said the city isn't spending enough on promoting itself as a destination. The JCVB spent $545,000 on advertising, which is approximately 43 percent less than other tourism bureaus, such as The Mississippi Gulf Coast Regional Convention & Visitors Bureau ($2,167,000) and the Shreveport-Bossier Convention & Tourist Bureau ($1,500,000).
Changes will also need to be made with the JCVB's governing board. HB 1637, the reauthorization bill that Gov. Phil Bryant signed the bill into law on April 12, changed the qualifications for two of the JCVB board members.
The report said that Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba needed to make two new board appointments within 90 days of the bill going into law. PEER also recommended that the board member whose position was eliminated by the bill that renewed Jackson's tourism tax no longer needed to attend board meetings and cast votes.
The JCVB originally asked the Jackson City Council for a 1-percent increase last December, but was rebuffed when the council voted to ask the Legislature to reauthorize the existing tax without an increase.
This story was changed to correct the link to the PEER report on the Jackson CVB