Hillsborough County commissioners weren't impressed with a plan proposed by The Regent's board of directors to pay back money it owes Hillsborough County.
A county audit concluded that $35,000 of the $2.5 million the county contributed to the construction of the $7 million community center at 6437 Watson Rd., Riverview, was used inappropriately. And the county commission wants the Brandon Community Advantage Center Board of Directors, which operates The Regent, to pay the money back.
Ever since The Regent opened in January 2010, it's been engulfed in a maelstrom of controversy. Detractors admonished the BCAC volunteer board for building a community center that looks more like a high-end country club with marble flooring and Greek statues. Critics also complained that The Regent ballroom is used more frequently for private weddings than community functions.
In response, the BCAC board has opened The Regent up for more community events, offering rental discounts to area nonprofits.
However, the efforts didn't prevent County Commissioner Sandy Murman from demanding that the board pay back the $35,000 that county auditors said was misspent.
BCAC board member David Lemar Jr. told commissioners yesterday that the board is willing to refund the money but wants to pay $400 a month for seven years.
That proposal didn't sit well with commissioners.
"You owe us $35,000. If we're willing to do a payment schedule, it's on our terms, not yours," said Commissioner Victor Crist. "If that's not good enough, then we'll see you in court."
Murman agreed. "This is taxpayer money," she said. "It's not yours."
County chief financial administrator Bonnie Wise said she originally asked the BCAC to pay the county $1,000 a month, but the BCAC board said it couldn't afford that amount.
Commissioners asked to see The Regent's monthly income statements to determine what would constitute a fair payment for the BCAC.
Lemar admitted he was caught off guard and didn't have that information with him.
Commissioners voted unanimously to send a letter to the BCAC requesting financial statements. The commission also voted 5-2 to look at legal options if the BCAC failed to pay the money back. Commissioners Ken Hagan and Les Miller voted against motion.
The commission will revisit the issue on July 18.
Although the BCAC operates The Regent, it is owned by Hillsborough Community College, which uses the building's bottom floor for classrooms. In an agreement made before the building opened, HCC agreed to pay the BCAC $750,000 for the building and maintain the property. The BCAC, which oversees the upstairs banquet room and downstairs meeting room, rents the facility from HCC for $10 a year and pays $1,600 a month in utilities.
According to the Lemar, The Regent is just breaking even financially. Revenues average $15,000 a month. The payroll for The Regent's two full-time staff members is $7,000 to $8,000 a month. Utilities run about $2,000 a month and The Regent pays out $5,000 to $6,000 for setup and breakdown crews, insurance, marketing supplies and other variable expenses, he said.