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County HRA gets tax funding after all

The Washington County Housing and Redevelopment Authority will get property tax funding in 2010, but may have to fight to keep that support in future years.

County property taxpayers will kick in $3.33 million toward the HRA next year, a slight increase over current funding. County commissioners approved the 0.94 percent levy hike 5-0 Dec. 15.

While the vote was unanimous, County Board members remain divided over future HRA funding.

Commissioners Gary Kriesel, Dennis Hegberg and Myra Peterson said the HRA's work on affordable housing, particularly for an aging elderly population, is important.

"That's the fundamental core mission," said Kriesel, whose district includes Afton.

Property tax revenue represents nearly 20 percent of the HRA budget. It also receives federal funding and gets a bulk of its revenue from rent payments at its affordable housing properties.

In addition to owning affordable housing properties, the HRA offers a homebuyer education program, counsels residents on foreclosure prevention and is involved with community development projects. HRA Executive Director Barbara Dacy said county support will help to continue those programs.

The HRA's budget and programs were reviewed in recent months, after Commissioners Lisa Weik and Bill Pulkrabek questioned county funding, saying the agency does not provide an essential or mandated service.

Pulkrabek said he does not believe government should be involved in housing issues. He said he wants the county to phase out financial support of the HRA in the next three to 10 years.

Still, Pulkrabek said, the HRA should not suddenly lose all tax support, so he voted for the levy.

"Cutting them off in one fell swoop is not fiscally prudent," he said.

Weik, too, supported the 2010 levy, but said she wants the HRA to focus on senior housing and emergency rental housing.