TAMPA — Hillsborough County is not losing millions of affordable-housing federal grant dollars annually, after all.
County Internal Performance Auditor Jim Barnes says he spoke too soon in telling some commissioners as much last week.
The county may not be spending all the money it could collect from the feds for affordable housing. But the lost grant money is likely measured in hundreds of thousands of dollars, Clerk of the Circuit Court records show.
"I would say it was a misunderstanding of the financial data he was looking at," said Dan Klein, chief deputy clerk of the court.
Barnes is auditing the county's Affordable Housing Office after it was forced to forfeit $2-million in federal grant money last year, blamed on a missed deadline. That loss remains undisputed.
Barnes thought he had turned up similar annual losses, dating to at least 2004.
But it turns out the auditor looked at spending records for just the first year of the grant award, not the following years. Once the county wins a commitment of federal money, it has several years to spend it.
"You don't build a jail all in one year," Klein said in explanation.
Barnes briefed some commissioners — those who have been particularly critical of the office — on his initial findings. One, Kevin White, publicly pounced on the seeming revelation.
Now he's not so happy with an auditor so far best known for repeatedly asking for a large raise after just one year on the job.
"I don't like getting briefed on something, or something brought to my attention of such an egregious accusation, if we don't have all of our T's crossed and I's dotted," White said.
Barnes said it was a well-intentioned mistake. Affordable Housing officer Howie Carroll's job has been on the line in the wake of the lost $2-million. Barnes said he thought he had uncovered a pattern that predates him.
"I feel it's my responsibility to the board, if things come up, that I've got to protect their backs in a way," Barnes said. "My total intention was to say, 'Can you give me another week or two to give you something more conclusive?' "
Meanwhile, housing officials plan to tell commissioners Wednesday that they likely will have to return $827,000 to Housing and Urban Development from a rental rehab project that didn't go as planned. If the county can commit the money to another project by October, it will not lose the money altogether.
Housing officials will also present a plan to ensure such problems don't continue. The plan calls for filling frozen positions, upgrading computer software and rewriting procedures.
The Affordable Housing officer will continue to report directly to County Administrator Pat Bean. The report is silent on whether Carroll will continue to hold that position.
Bill Varian can be reached at [email protected] or (813) 226-3387.