The Hillsborough Area Regional Transit Authority got more than $47.7 million in funding from last year’s American Rescue Plan, money that can be used for payroll, planning, projects and other operations impacted by COVID-19.
One thing it’s already helped fund: A 15 percent raise for CEO Adelee Le Grand.
HART board members on Feb. 7 approved the salary increase, worth $37,500 per year, for Le Grand, who joined the agency a little more than a year ago. That boosts her annual salary from $250,000 to $287,500 — approximately what she asked for during contract negotiations in late 2020.
While the raise coincided with Le Grand’s first performance evaluation as CEO, it was triggered by a clause in her contract empowering HART, “at its sole discretion,” to boost her salary up to 15 percent if “new funding becomes available.” The American Rescue Plan funds qualified. HART officials were unclear on whether the money for the raise would come from those federal funds or another source.
Le Grand was out of the office Thursday and Friday and could not be reached for comment, said a HART spokesperson.
In addition to the 15 percent raise, the board voted to extend Le Grand’s contract two years through 2025. The motion passed after a review of Le Grand’s first performance evaluations, which graded her on a scale of 1 to 3. In most categories, she graded at the highest score, a 3.
Le Grand, who came to HART from the private sector, was expected to bring stability to an agency that had seen five different leaders since 2014. In 2020, then-CEO Ben Limmer resigned following an investigation that found he violated multiple HART policies. Limmer’s salary was $210,000 per year with a bonus capped at 10 percent.
“I feel like we’ve got a world-class leader in our grips and we can’t let her go,” said Mayor Jane Castor. “I’m always a very conservative steward of the taxpayers’ dollars, but in this particular instance, I would motion for the 15 percent, because that’s what we negotiated with her, and she has not only stepped up to the requirements that were stated but has gone above and beyond.”
The topic of Le Grand’s salary was not listed on the board’s Feb. 7 meeting agenda, and it appeared to take some directors by surprise.
“I was not briefed that this would be coming to the board,” said board member Mariella Smith. “I really think that for this ask, we should have had time to review all of the evaluations of the board members and the contract, and it should have been a little bit more of an agenda item that we were going to consider.”
Some raised the question of how the raise would be funded beyond the one-time American Rescue Plan grant — a question to which no one had an immediate answer. An amended contract will come before the board in March.
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“When the contract comes back, will we have a good understanding of what we’ve committed to?” said Kim Overman. “The financial planner in me is freaking out a little bit right now. It’s like, okay, this is absolutely awesome, but I want to make sure that we have a sustainable financial picture that makes sure that we can meet the promise that we make in this contract amendment. And that’s critically important.”
Le Grand’s contract does not preclude the board from giving her another 15 percent raise down the line, should HART get another new funding source — say, a federal infrastructure grant. But the board might not necessarily recommend it, said HART attorney Julia Mandell.
“My understanding is this is a one-time-only deal,” Mandell said. “But I could be told, ‘No, that wasn’t the intent.’”
Across the bay, the Pinellas Suncoast Transportation Authority last month gave CEO Brad Miller a raise of about 8.4 percent. That included a 2 percent raise for all administrative staffers, a 1.5 percent merit raise and an additional bump as part of a market-rate pay equity study of all non-union salaries. His salary is now $229,882, up $17,838 from last year.
HART has seen no widespread pay bumps for employees since 2020, when the agency approved one-time $1,500 bonuses for bus drivers and union members who worked during the pandemic. At the same time, salaries for some administrative employees also went up, in some cases by tens of thousands of dollars, following a compensation study that sought to compare HART salaries to those at other transit agencies.
HART spokesperson Nikki Frenney said pay negotiations for its next union contracts are ongoing. As a result of the American Rescue Plan funding, she said, HART could look at adjusting salaries in other departments for next year’s budget.