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Audit: Fair contract records shoddy; no plans for racetrack

Associated Press

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — State Fair Park officials have kept shoddy contract records and have no plan for the underused Milwaukee Mile race track, according to an audit released Friday.

The report found several reasons to fault State Fair Park, an agency whose primary responsibility is to run the Wisconsin State Fair every year in August at 190-acre fairground in West Allis and Milwaukee. Looking at the agency’s operations from mid-2013 through mid-2017, auditors found that park officials couldn’t provide them with a complete list of the agency’s contracts.

In four instances, park officials solicited bids for goods and services exceeding $50,000, but auditors couldn’t learn whether they had gone on to enter into contracts as a result. In another instance, park officials couldn’t provide two one-year extensions to a contract from 2015 for advertising services worth more than $600,000 a year. Auditors also identified nine contracts that park officials had executed before receiving approval from their board.

Park officials also haven’t maintained adequate information auditors needed to evaluate the financial effects of independently managing the fair’s ride and game area, the report said.

Elsewhere, auditors found the agency lacks any plan for the 54-acre Milwaukee Mile racetrack. The track hasn’t been the site of any big races since July 2015. Revenue generated by non-state fair events at the track decreased from $401,900 in fiscal year 2014-15 to $286,400 in fiscal year 2016-17, the report found.

Kathleen O’Leary, State Fair Park CEO and executive director, said in a letter attached to the report that auditors changed their request for contract data four times during the review, requiring various revisions to a list with more than 6,000 lines of data.

Before the audit, the contract information hadn’t been compiled into one document, forcing the agency to assemble one during the end of the fiscal year and state fair, she said. Some contracts were executed without the board’s approval because the board meets bi-monthly, she added.

She said the agency would comply with auditors’ recommendations to solicit more information from ride and game vendors to assess the financial effects of independent midway management. She maintained that the state fair’s current system is financially sound.

As for the Milwaukee Mile, O’Leary said interest in auto racing has been flagging in recent years. She said the agency is working to find alternative events for the track, including music festivals and a celebration of Harley-Davidson’s 115th anniversary this year.

The audit did note that the agency’s revenues had increased from $21.8 million in fiscal year 2012-13 to $25.6 million in fiscal year 2016-17. Its expenditures also increased during that span, going from $17.4 million to $20.8 million.

State Sen. Robert Cowles and Rep. Samantha Kerkman, co-chairs of the Legislature’s audit committee, issued a joint statement Friday saying the report shows the agency must improve its contract and procurement practices and the audit will help the agency avoid financial mismanagement in the future.

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