Friday, August 29, 2008

Housing authority budget falls short

Board members frustrated with waning financial support

Express Staff Writer

The Blaine County Housing Authority is $38,852 short of making its projected fiscal 2009 budget work.

With $205,359 in projected income and $232,582 in projected expenses, plus $11,629 in a 5 percent contingency fund, the budget isn't yet balanced, despite the fact that the projected budget has already been trimmed by $40,000. Also, the budget is projected to be $50,000 less than the authority's fiscal 2008 budget of $282,628.

"Nobody likes a negative budget, but that's as tight as we could get it," said Commissioner Linda Thorsen. "I'm not embarrassed at all to say that a $40,000 shortfall in this environment is not a lot, especially when you think that Sun Valley dropped us $25,000 and Hailey dropped us $6,000."

The city of Ketchum and Blaine County have been the housing authority's most consistent financial backers. Ketchum has allocated $70,000 for the organization's 2009 budget and Blaine County has allocated $67,000, both the same as last year.

Meanwhile, Sun Valley has reduced its allocation from $35,000 last year to $10,000 this year, and Hailey has reduced its allocation from $12,000 to $6,000.

Bellevue and Carey do not help fund the authority.

"The message it sends to my board is, this is not an important community issue," said Executive Director Jim Fackrell.

The housing authority discussed the shortfall at its Wednesday, Aug. 27, meeting at the Old Blaine County Courthouse in Hailey.

The two-staff-member organization is facing a perfect storm created by a tripod of converging events: recent court decisions striking down linkage ordinances, municipalities that have pulled back on their public funding of the authority, and the overall poor housing market.

"It's not your fault that the legislative, judicial and market forces all changed at the same time," Ketchum City Councilman Larry Helzel said near the meeting's conclusion.

Nevertheless, housing authority commissioners appeared discouraged, and a suggestion from Commissioner Linda O'Shea that the authority could seek a $40,000 loan from Blaine County met with mixed and mostly negative reactions.

Commissioner John Flattery said that if the municipalities don't want to help fund the housing authority during tight times, "I think it's time to think about unwinding this thing and going on to do other things."

"As critical as housing is," he said, "for us to be on our knees begging for less than 1 percent of the combined budgets of these communities—I don't get it. I just don't get it."

The housing authority is working to schedule a meeting with members of the Blaine County Commission, possibly in the coming week, to determine how to get a budget approved before the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 31.

In study after study, said authority Chair Susan Passovoy, housing has risen to the top of the list of challenges facing the long-term economic and social health of the Wood River Valley.

"Housing is the number one issue, and we are perplexed at it not receiving acknowledgement in the funding," Passovoy said. "There's a disconnect there."

Newly named Commissioner Milt Adam was not present at the meeting, which would have been his first.

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