FRANKFORT — State Auditor Crit Luallen is questioning $3,900 the state Department of Fish and Wildlife paid the Louisville Bats minor-league baseball organization to promote the agency.
A $3,400 contract the department had in 2010 with the Bats called for four "sponsor nights" at the Louisville ballpark. It provided discounted admissions to four games for owners of hunting and fishing licenses and the use of a 22-person luxury suite for two games, not including food and beverage.
The department also paid $500 to use the luxury suite an additional two nights but used it for only one of the two optional nights, said Luallen spokesman Terry Sebastian.
Department of Fish and Wildlife spokesman Mark Marraccini said the agency stands by the expense.
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The agency's partnership with the baseball team directly ties to the department's mission to conserve and enhance fish and wildlife in the state and provide opportunities for hunters, fishers and boaters, Marraccini said.
He noted that the department's $50 million budget does not include any state tax dollars. The department pays for itself through the sale of licenses and permits.
In a 31-page audit released by her office Tuesday, Luallen said Fish and Wildlife received, as part of the agreement, ticket vouchers and access to the suite for staff and clients.
It also identified the purchase of $470 worth of food and beverage vouchers for department staff and partners.
There were no records of who received the vouchers, according to the audit for the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2010.
Although the department has the authority to spend money to promote itself, "considerations should be made concerning whether such purchases are effective and deemed the most efficient method to achieve those goals," the audit said. "In this instance, a beneficial return on investment is not readily identifiable and funds could have been better utilized to promote the department to a broader audience."
It also said providing food and beverage vouchers to staff without "appropriate control procedures" in place, or to any non-state employee doing business with the state, may lead to abuse.
The audit noted that the department has no competition since it is the only source for issuing hunting and fishing licenses and permits.
The department, in its response to the audit, strongly disagreed with Luallen's finding and noted that the contract with the Louisville Bats was approved by the Finance and Administration Cabinet.
The department said it has taken a variety of steps to promote itself, including "partnering with the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville and the Louisville Bats to promote hunting and fishing sports inside their own sports venues."
Jefferson County, home of the Bats, represents the department's "No. 1" customer in terms of license buys, the department said.
"The assertion that the department could have 'promoted to a broader audience' not only fails to take this factor into account, but also ignores our attempts to strategically focus more efforts on urban populations, non-traditional users and minority client outreach," the department said.
Marraccini said the partnership with the Bats also provided a concourse table for information about the department, on-air radio interviews and media support.
He said the partnership was in conjunction with the department's Fishing in Neighborhoods program that stocks fish in urban areas.
Luallen replied that other department promotions such as partnerships with outdoor shows, education in schools and development of a Web site "appear to be more effective and in line with fish and game fund objectives than a luxury suite at a baseball game."
Luallen said her office followed up on the department's statement that it held sponsorship agreements with UK and U of L "and learned that the department did not end up reaching a satisfactory deal on the UK partnership."
The audit said the department did reach an agreement with U of L this fiscal year for three years at a total cost of $97,500.
The Fish and Wildlife Department has no contract with the Louisville Bats this year, Marraccini said.
In 2009, lawmakers passed a bill for an annual audit of the department, which has little executive or legislative oversight. The commissioner is selected by a nine-member board and not subject to removal by the governor. The department is attached to the tourism cabinet only for planning and organizational purposes.