RIVERVIEW — Hillsborough County officials are changing the rules for granting construction money to nonprofits after an audit criticized the lack of governmental oversight on $2.5 million given to build the Regent, a controversial Riverview events center.
The county audit, released Tuesday by the clerk of courts, concluded that county officials failed to set safeguards to monitor a nonprofit's use of community investment tax funds.
Among the findings: The county approved the $2.5 million allocation to the Brandon Community Advantage Center, the nonprofit board that built and runs the Regent, without requiring a strict business plan showing why the funds were needed. County officials also signed a contract that failed to outline controls that would prevent the misuse of money. And the county loosely monitored the project without asking for detailed financial documents.
"I don't like the fact that this is the way we found a need to improve the system," County Commissioner Al Higginbotham said. "It exposed holes in the system that previously had never been tested."
The county administrator's office is revising the procedures for doling out community investment tax funds to outside agencies.
The audit was requested by county commissioners in May after local officials and residents raised concerns over spending nearly $7 million in local, state and federal funds on the Regent, which they called opulent and unavailable the community.
State Rep. Rachel Burgin, one of the Regent's critics, is drafting legislation that would make the Regent's operations more open through appointed board members and publicly available audits and operating budgets.
Burgin could not be reached for comment Wednesday.
Since the Regent opened in January, it has undergone several financial reviews, including one by Hillsborough Community College. HCC owns the building and operates classrooms there.
The college asked for reimbursement of about half its $750,000 Regent contribution.
A similar request may soon come from the County Commission: The county audit also highlighted $35,000 in questionable spending on the Regent by the Brandon Community Advantage Center.
That $35,000 went toward unauthorized expenditures incurred before the county's funding agreement. In a letter to county auditors, the nonprofit's attorney, Marshall Rainey, argued that the disallowed expenses, which included property taxes and payments to his law firm, were appropriate.
The nonprofit is waiting for the county's decision on how to settle the disputed $35,000, Rainey said Wednesday. He declined to comment on the audit.
Higginbotham said he intends to ask it to reimburse the sum. It's one of the first steps, he said, to fix the flaws involving the Regent.
Stephanie Wang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (813) 661-2443.