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Bengtson, head of Willmar, Minn., Kanidyohi County HRAs, says appointment going well

WILLMAR -- Jill Bengtson says the arrangement under which she was appointed executive director of the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority and the Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority is working well.

The two HRAs have been sharing the same office area at the County Health and Human Services Building since 2003. This past August, the boards of the two agencies ap-proved a contract to share Bengtson as executive director on a trial basis for one year.

After the contract expires at the end of July 2012, the boards will re-evaluate, determine if the arrangement is working and decide where to go from here, according to Bengtson.

"We haven't had any big problems,'' Bengtson says. "We're trying to get more to where staff are meeting once a week and I've encouraged them to share their ideas and their concerns. My door is open to them.''

Bengtson previously served as housing development director at Heartland Community Action Agency for 12 years.

From 2001 to 2003, she served as Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority executive director while working at Heartland. The county had been contracting for services with Heartland.

In 2003, the county housing authority ended its contract with Heartland and hired its own executive director and staff. At that time both the city and county Housing and Redevelopment Authority began discussing the possibility of having one staff for both agencies, Bengtson said.

"For a long time we've been talking about doing this,'' she said.

When longtime Willmar HRA Executive Director Dorothy Gaffaney retired in September 2010, both boards decided to look more seriously at sharing a director. Nikki Ilgen, housing programs supervisor, served as interim director. Bengtson said Ilgen did a great job but she was not interested in being executive director.

The boards formed a task force of board members, one Kandiyohi County commissioner and one Willmar City Council liaison. Bengtson said they spent the whole winter discussing differences in services, what a new staffing structure might look like, possible options, and possibly dissolving one Housing and Redevelopment Authority and creating a new organization. The boards decided to share one director for one year and determine whether further steps should be taken.

Bengtson said the two housing authorities are still separate legal entities and have separate staff but are working as a joint operation. Bengtson said the agencies are looking at joint computer software and accounting systems.

In addition, the Kandiyohi County authority contracts with and manages some services for the McLeod County Housing and Redevelopment Authority. Also, the Kandiyohi County authority manages some services for Meeker County HRA but that agreement will end on Dec. 31.

David Little
David Little covers the Willmar City Council, Willmar Municipal Utilities and other city news.
(320) 235-1150