Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Housing leaders circle the wagons

With money short, director resigning, group looks at options

Express Staff Writer

Blaine County leaders painted a bleak future for the Blaine County Housing Authority Tuesday afternoon.

"I really want to encourage the county commissioners to pull this in-house, disbanding the housing authority," said outgoing Housing Director Jim Fackrell, who announced his resignation last week. "I think the needs of each community are so divergent, and each community wants to make sure it meets the needs of its constituents."

There's no more need for a volunteer board to meet, Fackrell said.

From disbanding the authority to pushing the Idaho Legislature for more taxing authority, all options were on the table at a meeting at the Old Blaine County Courthouse. If Blaine County is posing a bond to voters regarding open space, then why not housing, asked Ketchum Community Development Corporation board member Michael Carpenter.

Spearheaded by Commissioner Larry Schoen, the Blaine County Commission convened the afternoon meeting among members of the housing authority and representatives from the other municipalities that have helped fund the organization.

The meeting followed news that the authority's fiscal 2009 budget has come up short, a full $91,000 less than originally budgeted and $40,000 less than a further pared down budget. There are not enough projected revenues to cover the predicted $232,000 in expenses.

"The reason I asked for us to come together ... we need to work together on improving the picture for affordable housing in Blaine County," Schoen said. "It feels like at least from my perspective like we're lurching from crisis to crisis."

A number of potential solutions were suggested, but an immediate one was not identified.

"I already have another commission member who wants to resign," said housing authority Chairwoman Susan Passavoy. "If you want to have an active, interested commission it has to be more than an administrative job as well."

Ketchum City Councilman Larry Helzel put his finger on the obvious at the outset of the meeting: Communication of the nature that occurred Tuesday afternoon should happen more regularly.

"A three-year business plan needs to be developed and have some funding assumptions attached to that," Helzel said.

But it was unclear by late Tuesday whether or not consensus had been reached.

Strong opinions were stated by representatives on all sides of the issue. Housing authority board members said they needed financial backing. The cities stressed the importance of the efforts they are undertaking.

"We're having this workshop after all the budgets have all been finalized," Schoen said. "Now, that's kind of backward. But from my perspective, in a year like this one, we want to know pretty closely what we're getting for our money."

Schoen said, however, that he detected a clear sentiment from those in attendance, despite an atmosphere of skepticism.

"So the housing authority is underfunded," he said. "And, yet, I hear from this conversation that we've identified some real needs for the services of the housing authority."

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