Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Regional housing board inches toward reality

Full participation by Blaine County cities in question

Express Staff Writer

Management of affordable housing in the Wood River Valley is getting another facelift.

The Blaine County Commission last Thursday, June 14, held an hour-long deliberation on a resolution that would expand the Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority from five to seven members, incorporating participation from all of the county's cities.

The commission will hold a public hearing later this summer to collect public feedback on the proposal.

"This issue is that the problem itself is a regional problem," said housing authority Executive Director Jim Fackrell. "It's not just Ketchum, Sun Valley, Hailey or Bellevue. If we approach this on a regional basis we'll certainly be able to better serve the community."

The county's draft resolution proposes to include one commissioner from each of Blaine County's five cities and two from the county as a whole. It is unclear, however, whether all municipalities are interested in participating.

"I know they're going to want us to participate, but I don't know what the council's reaction will be to that request," Carey Mayor Rick Baird said. "It's an issue that the council is trying to deal with, but whether or not they'll think being part of this new board is a good idea will be up to them when we present it to them."

Baird said there are increasing numbers of regional planning efforts underway, and his all-volunteer council must carefully choose when and where to devote time and the city's resources.

Fackrell indicated that the city of Hailey has chosen to "perhaps delay their decision on how best to address the issue."

"I know they're talking about using a consultant to assist them in that process," he said. "That's certainly within their prerogative to do that. On the other hand, some of the efficiencies that could be achieved by having a regional housing authority could be lost if Hailey were not on board, so there's some concern."

Hailey Mayor Susan McBryant did not return a telephone call Tuesday.

"I think every jurisdiction has their own specific set of issues that they're dealing with," Fackrell said. "But the Wood River Valley as a whole is really wrestling with this workforce housing issue, and has been for some time. This (new board structure) gives us some flexibility."

Representation from each of the valley's five cities would help facilitate an open, well-rounded dialogue, Fackrell said.

A move is also afoot to change the board's name to the Blaine County Housing Authority. The original name, Blaine-Ketchum Housing Authority, indicated the sources of the organization's funding. Now, the name could be changed to reflect the body's focus.

In previous years, Blaine County and Ketchum provided the majority of the organization's budget. The biggest contributor to its $300,000 fiscal 2007 budget is collections from a 3 percent fee on all the authority's transactions. Money is also contributed by Ketchum ($67,000), Blaine County ($67,000) and Sun Valley ($27,000). There is hope that the authority will eventually fund itself entirely through its fee collections.

"Certainly I think it would be in the scope of possibilities to request funding (from Hailey, Bellevue and Carey)," Fackrell said. "Then again, if you look at the business model for this housing authority, it should be able to stand on its own. As far as the financial side, I think that's all of their desires, to see the organization fund its own operations."

As deed-restricted housing stock increases, so, too, will the housing authority's budget.

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