City weighs ending contract with CVB following improper room tax collection


B.C. Kowalski

Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau Director Richard Barrett undergoes questioning from City Finance Director Lisa Rasmussen.

City leaders are considering ending the city’s contract with the Wausau/Central Wisconsin Convention and Visitors Bureau after they say the CVB’s director had improperly accepted room tax dollars from Expedia on their behalf.

According to city documents and statements made at a joint meeting between the city’s Room Tax Commission and Finance Committee Thursday, the CVB’s director, Richard Barrett, received room tax money from online travel company Expedia that should have gone to Wausau. Wausau leaders only learned that Barrett had received the money after contacting Expedia about the late payments, to which Expedia replied that they’d paid CVB the money.

Under the law, Wausau is to collect the all the room tax money, and dole out some to the Finance Committee, some to the Room Tax Commission (which includes hotel industry members) for grants for new tourism-generating programs, and the rest above a certain threshold is given to the CVB. Organizations such as Expedia collect room tax through their platforms and are supposed to send it to municipalities where they were collected.

Finance Chair Lisa Rasmussen questioned Barrett Thursday why he and the CVB accepted money on the city’s behalf. “There was no call by you to say, by the way, you have some room tax money coming,” says Lisa Rasmussen. “There was no call, there was no collaboration, no outreach to the city to say you have money coming. That’s a critical failure.”

Barrett told Lisa that he thought the checks would be written to the city, not to the CVB. “We took care of it and every penny was delivered,” Barrett says. Barrett told the committee he resented his name and the CVB’s name being dragged through the mud.

An email from Barrett to Expedia obtained by City Pages showed he offered to Expedia to be “your designation for central Wisconsin and coordinate the distribution of funds you provide.”

Mayor Katie Rosenberg says this has happened in other central Wisconsin communities as well, and says the city requested a criminal investigation. Another investigation is likely, Rosenberg says, because no one who was supposed to receive the money was interviewed.

The total dollar amount owed to Wausau for the first quarter was about $11,500, Rosenberg says, and the total for the region was about $35,000.

Gary Olsen, administrator of Rothschild, told City Pages the village’s room tax commission sent notice that it will be terminating its contract after 30 days, the required amount of notice. Like Wausau, Rothschild’s money owed from Expedia also went to the CVB, Olsen told City Pages.

Rasmussen told City Pages that more information will be gathered and more meetings will happen on the matter.