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Regent payback proposal irks commissioners

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Published:   |   Updated: March 18, 2013 at 07:10 PM
TAMPA -

The board that runs the much-maligned Regent community center in Brandon was under attack again Wednesday.

Regent officials were in front of the Hillsborough County Commission trying to work out a resolution over $35,000 in county funds that an audit last year identified as being improperly spent. The money was part of $2.5 million in county funding used to build the $7.5 million community center.

Over the past eight months, county Financial Administrator Bonnie Wise has been trying to get the $35,000 from the Brandon Community Advantage Center, the board that runs the Regent. On Wednesday, Wise presented the center's payback plan: $1,449 down, and $400 a month for 84 months.

Commissioners were not happy.

"You're telling me you can't afford to pay more than $400," Commissioner Les Miller asked David Lemar, chairman of the Regent board. "I've got a major concern over $400 a month for 84 months. That's seven years."

Lemar said the board has been barely breaking even every month and has no reserves. But when asked whether he had any documentation to back up his assessment of the Regent's financial condition, Lemar said the documentation was all at a private auditor's office.

That antagonized commissioners, as did Wise's admission that she had a hard time getting financial documents from the board and its attorney.

Commissioner Sandy Murman said she was "insulted" by the repayment plan. Commissioner Victor Crist said it was "unacceptable" that the county was not charging the board interest.

"You owe us $35,000," Crist said. "If we're willing to do a payment schedule, it's on our terms. And you know what? If that's not good enough, we'll see you in court."

Rather than rejecting the plan outright, commissioners approved a motion by Commissioner Al Higginbotham to take up the matter again at the July 18 commission meeting, when the Regent's board is expected to supply financial documents. Higginbotham's motion also included a request that the county attorney report on what legal authority the commission has over the Regent's board.

Commissioners also passed a motion by Murman that said any agreement with the Regent's board include a requirement that the building host one free community event a month.

The board's harsh reaction to the payment plan shouldn't have been a surprise. For more than a year, commissioners have been hearing criticism about the Regent's opulence and the building's high rental rates that have limited its use by community groups. The Greek revival building features a 10,000-square-foot ballroom with 20-foot ceilings, a hardwood floor, chandeliers, statues and a picturesque terrace.


msalinero@tampatrib.com (813) 259-8303

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