Commissioners choose cheapest housing option

Authority to cost ‘only’ $120,400

Wednesday, Oct. 8, 2008

The Charles County commissioners agreed last week that something must be done, but the current economic climate gave them a bit of sticker shock.

Faced with three options for creating a county housing authority with the power to build, rent and maintain public housing, the commissioners voted to adopt the cheapest option.

‘‘We wanted to do it somewhat on the skinny,” said Deborah Hudson, fiscal services director, as she presented two cheaper alternative options to the plan put forward by he county’s housing committee.

The housing committee called for the county to create a new department that would report directly to the county administrator and initially employ an executive director, fiscal specialist and office assistant at an estimated to cost of $371,900 a year. This was labeled ‘‘Option C” by Hudson’s staff.

Hudson’s office created two other proposals. Option B would have placed the housing authority under the community services department, adding an executive director, fiscal specialist, and part-time office associate at an estimated cost of $256,600 each year.

Option A, the one the commissioners adopted, makes the authority a community services division, but upgrades an existing position to executive director and adds a fiscal specialist and a part-time office associate at an estimated cost of $120,400 per year.

‘‘I absolutely think a fiscal specialist is critical,” Hudson said, noting the complexity of managing and accounting for federal housing grants.

But even that price tag was causing some heartburn among the commissioners.

‘‘What that is new and different will this agency be doing that will require extra staff?” asked Commissioner Gary V. Hodge (D).

Housing committee Chairman Hamad Matin said that the committee envisioned an authority staff that would be buying, constructing and managing properties. He said they weren’t certain that the county’s housing chief, Rita Wood, would be able to cope with all the additional duties of being a landlord.

‘‘We thought that’s a lot of work for any one person to do,” Matin said.

Commissioner Reuben B. Collins II (D) questioned how soon the authority could be created.

‘‘You’d basically have to use some of your reserve fund to [create the authority] this year,” Hudson answered. Wood added that, if the county does not hire a new executive director, her staff would need ‘‘aggressive training.”

‘‘It doesn’t necessarily have to be something we build from the ground up,” Wood suggested, explaining that the staff and scope of the authority could be increased over time.

‘‘Obviously, [option A] is the most desirable, because it costs less, but I’m not sure it will get the job done,” Hodge observed.

Commissioners’ President F. Wayne Cooper (D) said that the county should not use its savings to fund structural program costs.

‘‘What I’m hearing is: you’re creating a mushroom and this is the stem,” Cooper said. ‘‘I just don’t want to start another program without a funding source.”

But Cooper suggested that the county could cover the authority’s startup costs with the more than $100,000 in proceeds from recent county land sales.

‘‘I’m not being negative; this needs to be done,” Cooper said.

‘‘We want something that is going to operate,” Collins said, concluding that a partial authority was better than none at all.

‘‘To start this at Option C, we would be groping in the dark” for funding, Hodge said.

The board then voted to adopt Option A.