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Willmar committee approves next step in HRA transfer to county

WILLMAR — As part of an effort to use tax dollars efficiently and effectively in serving the public, the Willmar Housing and Redevelopment Authority is seeking approval to transfer its federally funded housing programs to the Kandiyohi County Housing and Redevelopment Authority.

The programs help very low-income families, the elderly, and the disabled afford decent, safe, and sanitary housing in the private market, according to the federal Housing and Urban Development website.

The transfer was discussed by the Willmar City Council’s Finance Committee Monday afternoon and the committee voted to approve a resolution requesting the Minneapolis Housing and Urban Development office support the transfer and send the request to the main HUD office in Washington, D.C., for approval.

The City Council will consider the resolution April 21.

The council’s support was requested by HRA Director Jill Bengtson. Bengtson said both the Kandiyohi County HRA Board and the Willmar HRA Board have been discussing a potential merger, and both boards have approved the resolution.

As of Jan. 1, all Willmar HRA employees were terminated and were hired under the Kandiyohi County HRA.

“We did a full change of benefits at that time also because the city HRA employees were on city benefits, and the county HRA employees were on county benefits. Now there’s one benefit package for the HRA,’’ she said.

Bengtson said both city and county HRA boards are in agreement and are willing to do whatever is needed for the transfer. Bengtson said the Minneapolis HUD office also needs a resolution from the City Council saying the city agrees to the transfer and to allow the county HRA to work in the city jurisdiction.

“Once we get a little feedback from HUD, then we’ll move forward with other programs of the Willmar HRA transferring everything else,’’ Bengtson said.

“We’re here today to request the council to consider this resolution that the HUD Minneapolis office would like to see in addition to the two HRA resolutions. Then they will forward their request and their package on to the main HUD office in Washington, D.C.’’

Councilman Ron Christianson, the council liaison to the Willmar HRA Board, said the city will be transferring its assets to the county. He was concerned that a board has not yet been established to oversee the merged HRA and said he wanted to make sure there was some input.

“We’re talking about having a shared board of at least three members from the city and three from the county and it isn’t done yet. There’s more coming,’’ he said. “We’re transferring a lot of assets to them.’’

City Administrator Charlene Stevens said a work group was established from the city and county that will be discussing the question and coming up with some governance options.

Bengtson said that if the Minneapolis office moves the request to Washington, “I think it’s timely to start talking about that because things should start to move a little quicker then.’’

Committee Chairman Denis Anderson asked if the merger will result in any savings.

Bengtson said the savings in benefits was predicted at $8,000, but did not know if huge savings would be seen.

Rather, there would be more efficiency by having one entity, one staff, and one place from which to communicate.

“We’re focusing more on cost and trying to be more efficient there and make the revenues balance with the expenses,’’ she said.

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