Audit Raps Louisiana Tourism Dept. on Museum, Park Oversight

BATON ROUGE  (AP) — Louisiana’s state tourism department isn’t properly collecting admission fees for some of its parks and appears to be violating agreements governing the use of an historic apartment in the heart of New Orleans’ French Quarter, according to a state audit.

Legislative Auditor Daryl Purpera’s office released a list of problems it found within the management of the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism and the agencies under its control, which are overseen by Lt. Gov. Billy Nungesser.

Auditors found that the state parks office wasn’t accurately charging admission fees at the Rosedown Plantation and Historic Site in St. Francisville.

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Rosedown is supposed to charge $15 as its adult admission fee under state regulations, but the site is charging people $12 instead, auditors wrote. The report says more than 9,400 visitors to the site between July 2018 and December 2019 weren’t charged the proper admission fee, costing the state more than $28,000 in lost revenue.

More broadly, the state parks office wasn’t properly overseeing admission fee waivers and discounts across its sites according to its own policy that requires the office’s assistant secretary to authorize them, the audit says.

H. Brandon Burris, the interim assistant secretary over parks, wrote in an audit response that the $15 Rosedown admission fee was issued in state regulations by mistake, and the regulations were being updated to reflect the correct $12 fee. He also said the waivers questioned by auditors had been properly approved, but he said the agency was developing a “more formal process” to track and document future discount approvals.

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In addition, the report says the Louisiana State Museum appears to be violating a public trust governing the use of the historic Lower Pontalba Building flanking New Orleans’ Jackson Square. The building has multiple apartments and commercial units, including a one-bedroom apartment the state museum office can use for museum-related purposes.

The trust governing the donated property requires proceeds from the property to be used for preservation or to benefit the Louisiana State Museum. The state museum office is unable to prove that 45 of 76 guest stays at the apartment from July 2018 through March 6 met that criteria, auditors wrote.

In a written response, Steven Maklansky, interim director of the Louisiana State Museum, disagreed with suggestions the apartment’s use has run afoul of the trust’s terms and said all stays have been “for public purposes that benefit” the museum. But Maklansky said the office intends to improve its documentation about the use of the apartment.

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