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Allegheny County councilman proposes examination of tourism agency spending

| Tuesday, May 7, 2013, 8:48 p.m.

An Allegheny County councilman said Tuesday he wants to set up a committee to study how Pittsburgh's tourism agency spends its tax dollars, including whether executive salaries are too high.

Matt Drozd, R-Ross, said he intends to propose an ordinance this month that would establish a committee that could include representatives from hotels and other businesses to see how effective VisitPittsburgh is at attracting tourism.

Most of VisitPittsburgh's $10.2 million in annual funding comes from a portion of the county's 7 percent tax on hotel room stays.

“I think we should look at taking those tax dollars and examine whether we stay with VisitPittsburgh,” Drozd said.

Craig Davis, president and CEO of VisitPittsburgh, said in a statement that the agency directly booked more than 223,000 room nights for 2012 and beyond, which equates to more than $190 million for the local economy.

“As a sales and marketing organization, our people are our product,” said Davis, who was paid $225,273 in 2011, according to tax filings. “For destination marketing organizations of our size, the ratio of salaries to revenue is in line with our counterparts across the country. ... VisitPittsburgh is an effective steward of the tax revenue generated by out-of-town visitors to Allegheny County.”

Other council members said they were willing to examine how tax money is being spent.

“It's a good question,” said Vice President Nick Futules, D-Oakmont. “I don't know who controls their salaries.”

VisitPittsburgh is paying for an outside consultant to measure its salaries against those of other tourism agencies nationwide. County Executive Rich Fitzgerald has criticized the agency for overpaying its executives and has called on the agency to justify six-figure salaries that topped out in 2011 at $386,025 in total annual compensation to Executive Chairman Joe McGrath, who is to retire in June after more than 22 years as its head.

Bobby Kerlik is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7886 or bkerlik@tribweb.com

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