No longer under one roof

December 28, 1998|By SCOTT BUTKI

Starting on Jan. 1, the Washington County Housing Authority will be considered independent of the county government.

The change has been planned for months and may not be complete for at least another year, said Housing Authority Executive Director Richard Willson.

The switch will not have any impact on the residents served by the Housing Authority, he said. The authority currently runs three senior housing facilities, in addition to other homes spread across the county.

He does not yet know, though, if the change will help the authority find new sources of revenue, he said.

The authority can be financially self-sufficient because of the money it receives from rent, administration fees and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, said Willson, who has been executive director since 1985.


He has no time frame for some of the changes planned, including ending the use of such county services as its mail room and legal counsel, he said. The authority must move out of the county offices by June 2000, he said.

Employees have just begun receiving their payroll through the authority, rather then from the county, he said. All nine employees agreed to the switch, he said.

Affecting the speed at which the authority becomes truly independent of the county are two projects being planned: a new facility in Hancock and an expansion of its Williamsport facility.

The switch stems from some county brainstorming sessions in the early months of 1997, Willson said. At that time county officials realized there is no requirement that local government provide public housing, he said.

That revelation did not mean the body saw public housing as unimportant but rather that county government did not have to be the entity supervising it, he said.

The County Commissioners then approached the Hagerstown Housing Authority to measure interest in merging the two agencies, he said.

Willson and his staff spent six to eight months preparing information for the city about the proposed merger. However, the talks fell apart, and in February the city officially rejected the idea.

During the merger talks, some of the 15 county department employees worried that their jobs were no longer secure and six of them quit, Willson said. The staff has remained at nine ever since, he said.

Now that the authority is independent, some of those will get raises since they have increased responsibilities, Willson said. If they remained county employees, they would have to wait until the next budget takes effect, in July 1999, before any raises could be given, he said.

The staff will no longer have to please two bosses: the County Commissioners and the Washington County Housing Authority Commissioners, he said.

The County Commissioners will continue, though, to be the body making appointments to the authority board.

related story: Some residents express fear, others none, over authority's split from Washington Co.

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