Hillsborough commissioners to discuss Regent's 7-year repayment plan

Published July 25, 2012

TAMPA — It's a fraction of Hillsborough County's $2.5 million contribution.

But it could take seven years of small monthly payments for the county to see full reimbursement of $35,000 owed by the Regent.

Scheduled for a vote today by the County Commission, the repayment agreement comes nearly a year after a county audit labeled the sum as inappropriately spent during the Riverview events center's construction.

Commissioner Al Higginbotham also wants to discuss possible county involvement in the center, but the county attorney says it has no authority over the Regent's management.

Higginbotham is also seeking a board spot for a county representative — an invitation the Regent's private, nonprofit board had extended in a November letter.

Higginbotham did not return a call for comment Tuesday. As last year's commission chairman, he initiated a county investigation into the Regent's use of public funds.

The Regent faced questions over misspending and mismanagement since shortly after it opened in January 2010.

Critics attacked its lack of community availability when nearly $7 million in local, state and federal funds paid for its construction.

The scrutiny led to several audits, including the county's review last summer that found the Regent's board allocated a portion of county money for property taxes and expenses predating the funding agreement for $2.5 million from sales taxes.

In February, the county suggested a payment plan over 2 1/2 years, according to emails.

The board countered, disagreeing it violated terms and offering to compensate $6,300.

Eventually, the sides worked out a payment plan for the full amount that the board felt it could afford, said county chief financial administrator Bonnie Wise.

The Regent would chip away at its debt $400 at a time, with an initial payment of about $1,500, according to the proposal.

It could take 85 installments, though the board could erase its debt faster with larger payments.

The agreement doesn't assess interest.

It also doesn't include provisions if another entity assumes control of the center — such as the county or the building's owner, Hillsborough Community College.

In exchange for ownership of the Regent, the college kicked in $750,000 toward construction.

It runs classes on the lower level while leasing the upper level to the Regent's board. HCC has a standing offer to take over event operations, though the board has declined it in the past.

Known as the Brandon Community Advantage Center, the Regent's board is reconciling another bill. More than $1,000 goes to HCC every month to repay $116,000 used on non-construction expenses. The board also gave back $250,000 in unused HCC funds.

Board chairman David Lemar Jr. did not return messages Tuesday.