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HCC scrutinizes public funds given to build Regent

RIVERVIEW — Hillsborough Community College said Thursday it is examining the use of public money it contributed to build the Regent community center.

The action comes after the college discovered about $112,000 still remains in the hands of the nonprofit board that runs the center.

The review is the latest inquiry into the nearly $7 million spent on the Regent. Hillsborough County commissioners called for an audit in June after critics questioned the Riverview center's fancy look and lack of accessibility to community groups.

HCC partnered with the Brandon Community Advantage Center to develop the Regent, an events center and emergency shelter with six lower-level classrooms. The college chipped in $750,000 and took ownership when the building opened in January.

The money, which came through the college's state funding, was designated for construction and land costs, said HCC spokeswoman Ashley Carl.

"We're not sure how much is left," Carl said. "We have some ideas, but that's why we have this review going on."

Brandon Community Advantage Center board members interpreted the contract differently, said board attorney Marshall Rainey.

"We thought it was ours to spend," Rainey said, like a line of credit — until the board shared the figures with HCC in June, and the college took issue with the excess funds.

The money has now been set aside until both parties can agree on how much remains and who will control it in the future. Both sides have indicated it will go toward improvements at the Regent.

Rainey declined to specify how much of HCC's dollars went unspent, but said it's "a lot more" than the estimate of $112,000.

"Which is a good thing," he said. "It'll be money there for capital improvements."

The board retains no excess funds from other public money it received from the county, state and Federal Emergency Management Agency, Rainey said.

In May, the board promised to reimburse the college $20,000 that had been put toward the salary of the center's executive director. HCC deemed it an operational expense, outside the scope of its contract with the board.

That sum has not yet been repaid, Rainey said, but will be included in discussions about HCC's other funds.

A lease agreement connects HCC and the board for at least 20 years, with the board making monthly payments of $10 for rent and $1,600 for utilities to operate the event space.

"Obviously the college wants the (board) to succeed," said Carlos Soto, president of HCC's Brandon campus and a college liaison to the board.

The audits, he said, will help the board figure out how to run the Regent and become part of the community.

County Commissioner Al Higginbotham, who instigated the county audit, said he wasn't surprised to hear HCC ordered a spending review.

"It's good prudent business practice that when questions came up on the county side, that they would ask questions, too," Higginbotham said.

Among others looking over expenses at the Regent: the nonprofit board itself. The board is conducting a routine audit to file with the state.

Times staff writer Bill Varian contributed to this report. Stephanie Wang can be reached at swang@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2443. Shelley Rossetter can be reached at srossetter@sptimes.com or (813) 661-2442.

HCC scrutinizes public funds given to build Regent 07/28/11 [Last modified: Friday, July 29, 2011 12:05am]
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