Central Delaware
Delaware auditor: Low pay could muzzle ‘watchdogs’
Delaware State Auditor Thomas Wagner looked to make his staff members’ pay scale more competitive during a Joint Finance Committee hearing Tuesday afternoon. (Delaware State News photo by Dave Chambers)

DOVER — Partisan politics may prevent the state auditor from receiving a higher pay scale for his auditors, which he claims will stunt watchdog investigations.

State Auditor Thomas Wagner, the only Republican currently elected to statewide office, would like to reallocate funding already requested in this Fiscal Year 2015 budget, which stands at $2,762,100, to make his auditors’ pay scale more competitive.

The increase would range between 15 to 30 percent, increasing the $32,500 annual salary to, at most $42,250, based on years of experience.

The Office of Management and Budget approved the reformed pay scales in December 2012, so the state auditor only needs Controller General Mike Morton, a Democrat, to sign off on the proposal.

But the Democratic-controlled Joint Finance Committee chairs have barred the controller general from signing on the dotted lines.

“They have decided at this time I not sign the document,” Mr. Morton said during the hearing, noting the tight economic times as not providing the environment for increased pay raises.

Mr. Wagner reiterated his position.

“What’s really at risk here are the investigations that don’t get done because of the resources,” he said.

“What’s lost is the extra value the auditor’s office can bring to the table.”

Rep. Joe Miro, R-Pike Creek Valley, at first seemed perturbed that the chairs would not allow the reallocation.

“It’s hard for me to understand that in this environment that we live in, where auditing a particular agency or particular government entity or private entity is so key for the accountability that we all request, and the transparency that is so important, that we are preventing the auditor from really conducting the type of work that will reveal some type of inappropriateness,” Rep. Miro said. “It bothers me.”

JFC chairs Sen. Harris McDowell, D-Wilmington North, and Rep. Melanie George Smith, D-Bear, did not respond to the auditor’s concerns during the hearing, but after the fact cited tight economic times rather than party politics as the reason to not sign off on the pay scale raise.

“I would respectfully disagree with that,” Rep. Smith said on the assumption their decision was politically motivated. She said all the state agencies have been asked to do more with less and she supports the governor’s 1 percent general pay raise as sufficient compensation.

Sen. McDowell, however, was a bit more pointed in his response.

“Out of all the thousands of people we turned down for requests last year, including requests for money, he’s the first one to cry about it,” he said of Mr. Wagner.

He doesn’t see their decision to not increase pay scales at this time as currently compromising “watchdog” investigations.

“What watchdog?” he added.

Currently, the auditor’s office has 22 professional audit positions, 11 filled, one in process and 10 vacancies.

Mr. Wagner said the state’s noncompetitive salary scales for new auditors has hampered the hiring process.

The office averages about 200 fraud hotline complaints a year and about 60 audits annually, but larger projects, such as the state of Delaware’s annual audit, has to be contracted out of state.

“An average salary for a University of Delaware graduate is $50,000 a year,” Mr. Wagner said. “We just don’t have the salary dollars. We’ve had the second-highest turnover rate of all the auditors in the country. We lose employees and we can’t replace them.”

The office, for now, will have to wait until the controller general approves the proposal.

Staff writer Jen Rini can be reached at 741-8250 or Follow @DSNJen_Rini on Twitter.