Tourism payroll challenged by Allegheny County councilman

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An Allegheny County councilman says tourism agency VisitPittsburgh spends too much on salaries and bonuses, questioning whether hotel-tax dollars would be better spent elsewhere.

Matt Drozd, R-Ross, said at Tuesday's county council meeting that the county might find a better value for its money looking beyond VisitPittsburgh, which spent more than $4 million on personnel in 2011. The agency received just under $8 million in county hotel tax revenue that year.

The tourism agency's six highest-paid executives made between $160,000 and $380,000 each in salaries and bonuses in 2011, according to tax records.

"We want to make sure our taxpayers are getting a good return," Mr. Drozd said. "We have to do it, and not only with this agency, but we have to do it with other agencies."

His proposal drew tepid praise from some on council, including from council President Charles Martoni, D-Swissvale, who felt Mr. Drozd has "said enough that we have to investigate it."

But Councilman Bob Macey, D-West Mifflin, felt his colleague was taking shots at a well-meaning agency to score points in an election year.

"These comments deserve to be vetted in committee -- not across the airwaves," he said, gesturing to a nearby Mr. Drozd giving a television interview.

VisitPittsburgh CEO Craig Davis said in a statement that the agency's ratio of salaries to revenue is on par with the rest of the tourism industry. For every dollar spent on the agency, he wrote, the region's economy gets $22.

"By every industry standard of measurement, VisitPittsburgh is an effective steward of the tax revenue generated by out-of-town visitors to Allegheny County," he wrote.

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Andrew McGill: or 412-263-1497.


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