Hillsborough bends rules, pays Ybor social clubs for RNC repairs
TAMPA - Hillsborough County commissioners decided to bend their own rules today and reimburse four Ybor City social clubs for repairs the clubs made on their early-20th century buildings. Back in July 2011, the commission approved giving $2 million to the clubs Centro Asturiano, the Cuban Club, the Italian Club and Sociedad La Union Marti-Maceo – because their historic buildings were deteriorating and the clubs didn’t have the money for the repairs. But the county never handed over the money because the clubs failed to meet all the county’s requirements for funding, including having their financial reports audited. “We’re kind of in a holding pattern until we receive the audits,” Tom Fesler, county budget director, told the commissioners.Fesler said the clubs borrowed money and made the repairs, in part because holding off would speed up the buildings’ deterioration, but also because the clubs wanted to be ready for business during the Republican National Convention in August. The Cuban Club reported making $200,000 in bookings for parties and dinners during the RNC, Fesler said. Reimbursing the clubs for the repairs would violate the board’s capital project funding policy approved in November 2011, Fesler said. Commissioner Sandra Murman asked Fesler if anything could be done short of an audit to move the process along more quickly. “You know audits are very expensive for an organization: $10,000 or $15,000,” Murman said. “I’m trying to figure out some other internal review of finances that would satisfy that requirement.” Fesler pointed out that the county funds other nonprofit organizations at much lower amounts, such as $10,000 or $15,000 a year, and they all are required to produce independent audits. What’s more, Fesler said the county found some concerns in reviewing the clubs’ financial information accompanying their funding requests. An audit would give the county some assurance that the financial information provided by the organizations was accurate. “My professional opinion is we should get the audits,” Fesler said. Rick Duran, executive director of Centro Asturiano, told the commission his club has signed a contract for an audit. Italian Club leaders Joe Capitano and Andy Scaglione told The Tampa Tribune outside the meeting they have also contracted with an auditing firm. “I like the idea of an audit because it protects the taxpayer,” said Scaglione, former chairman of the Tampa Sports Authority. Scaglione said the audit would cost the club $15,000. Fesler said the Cuban Club is in the process of finding an audit firm, and Marti-Maceo expects to have an audit completed in the next few months.