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Hillsborough auditor keeps arguing for raise

TAMPA — Hillsborough County internal performance auditor Jim Barnes has twice campaigned for a big pay raise since taking the job a year ago.

Twice commissioners have shot him down.

Barnes is try, trying again in his latest budget proposal. Along with seeking to more than double spending on audits, his spending plan would give him and each of his three employees raises of at least $18,000.

His lowest-paid employee, currently holding a spot previously considered clerical, would get a roughly $25,000 raise on his current $63,638 salary. That would be achieved by reclassifying his job as on par with a lower-level department director.

That may not go over so well with commissioners who are looking for ways to slash the budget in response to property tax cuts. After all, the decisions they reach will likely result in more layoffs at County Center.

They created Barnes' post to help find ways to save money, and pay him $110,593 already.

"During the budget crisis we're in, that won't fly with me," said Commissioner Kevin White, who has reacted harshly when the topic was broached before. "As stated before, Mr. Barnes knew what he was getting into."

Barnes said he is not pushing the issue. He has previously maintained to commissioners that he is not paid on the same level with other county auditors in Florida. He said he's just following what he took to be the board's advice last time: come back at budget time.

"I'm not making an issue of my salary," said Barnes, adding that he likes his job and realizes the timing is rough. "I'm not going to be hurt by this. I've already gone out and put my head on the block twice. But if you don't ask, you don't get."

The pay raises for his employees reflect a restructuring of his office, from two auditors (including himself) and two clerical people, to four auditors, he said, adding that he doesn't need much clerical help.

One ally could be Commissioner Brian Blair, who advocated giving Barnes a raise when the question came up last month. He notes that Barnes is being paid at the lowest end of the pay scale for his job, which isn't fair given the hard work he's putting in.

"Jim Barnes and his staff do an outstanding job," Blair said. "They are Johnny-on-the-spot for commissioners. When you leave the building at night, you see them there working."

But Commissioner Jim Norman, whom Barnes cites as the one who suggested bringing pay raises back during budget talks, says that's not what he intended.

Commissioners set this year's budget last year and operate on a two-year cycle. The off-year is supposed to be limited to minor adjustments.

"It's outrageous to try to take this out of cycle," Norman said. "What we were saying is, if we're even going to look at raises, it needs to be put up against other needs."

Barnes was hired in April 2007 and is the second person to hold the auditing position since voters created it in 2002.

He previously had state and federal auditing jobs, although he was unemployed for the seven months before he was hired. He was dismissed after a dispute with bosses at the Florida Department of Health.

That's one reason the county negotiated his salary at the bottom rung of the pay scale for his position. As a result, he is paid about $35,000 less than the average for the top 10 county department directors.

He only recently completed his first major performance audit, a critical take on inefficient operations of the county's Planning and Growth Management Department. He has completed at least nine other analyses far more limited in scope, including small-scale studies sought by individual commissioners.

His budget proposal would increase spending in his office to $1.2-million next year, up from $497,285 previously approved. The increase is largely due to a plan to spend roughly $600,000 to hire outside firms to do three large-scale audits next year.

Barnes said he is also floating that idea at the suggestion of commissioners. He said he's not sure it will get support.

His budget and salary may come up in a related context when commissioners meet Wednesday. Barnes is locked in a dispute with County Administrator Pat Bean over who holds control over the budget for his office.

Barnes says that, as the auditor of Bean's operations, he should be able to submit his budget request each year directly to commissioners. Bean says she should consider it first, since she is the board's budget officer and is responsible for presenting commissioners with a balanced spending plan.

Commissioners ultimately approve the budget.

Barnes said having to go through the administrator interferes with his independence, and it is improper for the person he audits to have a say in how much he spends to do so.

Bill Varian can be reached at varian@sptimes.com or (813) 226-3387.

Hillsborough auditor keeps arguing for raise 05/03/08 [Last modified: Thursday, May 8, 2008 10:08am]

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