HRA braces for future

Published 11:04 am Friday, August 24, 2012

A full-time HRA executive director position is on the way, and the HRA says it’s ready for the new possibilities — and the bigger price tag.

As the time for candidate interviews nears, the Austin Housing and Redevelopment Authority is prepared to support the higher cost of a full-time executive director’s salary through its general fund. That operating budget comes from management fees charged to HRA properties and also a tax revenue Mower County places on all properties.

Marv Repinski, commissioner chair with the HRA, said the next year of the HRA’s budget, which was voted on at the Aug. 16 meeting and takes effect Oct. 1, has been set accordingly.

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“Built into that budget is sufficient amount to cover the salary of a new director and the benefits,” he said.

HRA accountant Sherri Detloff said a Minnesota statute sets a limit on the taxes an HRA can place on properties in the community. That limit is .0185 percent of a property’s taxable ma, which the HRA has already reached.

“I’ve always levied the maximum anyway,” Detloff said.

That means there will not be an increase in residents’ taxes from hiring a full-time director. In fact, the HRA will bring in about $680 less from taxes in its 2013 budget year because the market value of Austin has lowered. Detloff called the change “negligible,” since the HRA will still have a little more than $194,100 come in.

While cost of a new director isn’t falling to the taxpayers on the HRA’s side, it does trickle down through the city.

Right now, current HRA Director Jim Hurm’s pay is listed on the HRA’s general fund budget as an “outside management fee.” That entry, which also includes technical services from Don Tomlinson, the city’s manager of informational systems and webmaster, totals to $30,000. Detloff said the HRA essentially reimburses the city for these services.

“I pay for Jim Hurm and Don Tomlinson’s time,” she said.

A full-time executive director would instead be an HRA employee on the HRA’s payroll, not the city’s. No money has been allotted to the outside management fee for the 2013 year to account for the new director, though Detloff said the HRA has yet to decide whether to pay $6,000 to continue Tomlinson’s technical services, though Commissioner Roger Boughton said he thought it was likely.

But while reimbursement for a piece of Hurm’s salary will stop coming from the HRA, the city is not cutting his pay proportionally, Boughton said. The city’s current proposed budget, which includes a tax levy increase, will cover Hurm’s roughly $108,000 going forward without the HRA’s contribution.

“He was doing this above and beyond his job, really,” Boughton said. “We reimbursed the city 20 percent of his salary.” He added Hurm will continue to work as director of the Port Authority and city administrator, and put the time previously spent on HRA into those efforts.

Hurm, who was hired about nine years ago, said he agreed it was time for the HRA to find a full-time director, and upcoming projects with the HRA required someone who could dedicate more time to them. His role as director was never meant to be more than part-time, he added.

“I think it was intended to be an interim situation,” he said. “It’s time to recognize that Austin needs a full-time executive director.” He added it is very unusual for a city of Austin’s size not to have a full-time HRA director.


Finding the new director

As for the exact salary of the director, that depends on the qualifications of the candidate.

“We probably will go at least $86,000 plus benefits,” Repinski said. “There is money in the budget.”

That figure could flex by $8,000 to $10,000 in either direction, depending on factors like how many years of previous experience the chosen candidate has.

“It’s up to the board to decide,” Detloff said. In the worst case scenario, she said, the decision to go with a full-time director could end up costing the HRA about $68,700 more than a part-time director would have.

Repinski said the benefits of a full-time position were numerous. It will enable the director to take more time to work with staff on assignments, to manage day-to-day business and to converse with the HRA board, he said.

It will also allow the HRA time to develop relationships with other agencies in the city and get more involved in the community in general. Repinski said he would like to see the HRA get more involved with the community betterment project Vision 2020, especially with the revitalization of the old Austin Utilities building.

Boughton said Kermit Mahan, who left his position with the HRA in 2002, was responsible for why Austin’s HRA is so large.

According to Hurm, Austin’s HRA is today the fourth largest in the state in terms of the number of housing units. Between Twin Towers, Pickett Place and 56 individual houses, the HRA has 361 units. That number does not take into account rent subsidies for non-HRA properties.

“We had an aggressive HRA director,” Boughton said, adding Mahan readily went after grant dollars. “He was just outstanding.”

The HRA’s current direction is different from when Mahan was in charge, but Boughton expects to see good progress out of the Housing Improvement Program, where the HRA partners with Riverland Community College to fix up foreclosed and abandoned houses and get them back on the market.

Repinski described the HRA’s end goal as securing “a more hands-on approach to guidance and decisions about property management.”

“I think we’re just going to build a stronger HRA and do what this agency was founded to do,” he said.

The board has already sent out postings for the job, and Repinski said several applicants from Minnesota and other states have already come forward. Board members will accept applications until Aug. 24, then send out questions on Aug. 27, which applicants must return by Aug. 31. The board will review applications the week of Sept. 3, then choose up to six finalists at its Sept. 20 meeting to interview on Sept. 28 and 29.

Repinski and Boughton said there were about six or seven applicants so far.

Though interviewees will pay their own transportation costs, the board will provide lodging and meals. Executive Director Jim Hurm, HRA Finance Director Sherri Detloff, and John Garry, the executive director of the Development Corporation of Austin, will sit in on interviews as well, though the hiring decision will ultimately be up to the board.

Once the interview process is over, HRA officials will have until early December to pick a new executive director, Repinski said.

— Trey Mewes contributed to this report.