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Audit questions more spending at Riverview's Regent events center

RIVERVIEW — The nonprofit board that runs the Regent events center may face questions over how it spent about $35,000 in county funds, according to an audit filed this week.

The questionable spending is on top of another $116,000 found by a separate review to have been spent inappropriately and another $250,000 that was not spent at all but kept by the board.

The most recent audit, filed Monday with the state as part of an annual requirement for the nonprofit, was conducted by accounting firm Hamilton & Phillips for the Regent's board to examine 2010 financial statements.

Among its findings, the audit disclosed that $35,048 of Hillsborough County sales tax money was used either on unauthorized costs or before there was a funding agreement in place.

The money is part of the $2.5 million in community investment tax funds that the county contributed to the construction of what has become a controversial events center.

With grants from other local, state and federal agencies, nearly $7 million in public funds went toward the Regent in Riverview, which features college classrooms on its lower level and doubles as an emergency shelter.

The Regent's volunteer board, known as the Brandon Community Advantage Center, fell under scrutiny after the building opened in January. Residents and officials raised concerns about the Regent's unavailability to community groups and its opulent look, prompting the County Commission in June to request a spending review.

An audit by the County Clerk's Office is scheduled to be presented to commissioners Sept. 21.

If the commissioners call for reimbursement of the $35,000, it will become a liability for the Regent's board, the Hamilton & Phillips report said.

Board attorney Marshall Rainey did not return calls for comment Tuesday. County commissioners also did not respond to calls for comment.

Earlier this month, the nonprofit group agreed to repay $366,000 to Hillsborough Community College. The college, which owns the building, had given $750,000 for land and construction costs for the Regent.

In its own audit, HCC found that $250,000 went unspent and $116,000 went toward expenses outside the scope of the contract. The amount included $20,000 that HCC found was used for the salary of the center's executive director.

A college spokeswoman previously said HCC expected immediate reimbursement of the $250,000 in unspent funds, with the rest to be repaid over several years with interest. The money will go into an account controlled by HCC for future repairs to the Regent.

The Regent board pays $10 for rent and $1,600 for utilities each month to HCC as part of its agreement to operate the rental ballrooms and multipurpose room at the Regent.

In July, attorney Rainey told the St. Petersburg Times the board was "breaking even," taking in about $75,000 in six months while spending as much.

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

Audit questions more spending at Riverview's Regent events center 08/30/11 [Last modified: Tuesday, August 30, 2011 11:45pm]
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