County and municipalities consider options
The who’s who in affordable housing met at the Gunnison Board of County Commissioners’ meeting on Tuesday, February 28. The recent resignation of Gunnison County Housing Authority Director KT Gazunis, who is relocating to be closer to family, has sparked some debate over the Authority’s direction.
A review of the intergovernmental agreements (IGAs) regulating the Authority raised two important questions for the commissioners: should the Authority’s advisory board act as a governing board, and why is the authority functioning as a County department when it was designed to serve the municipalities, too?
Commissioner Hap Channell said it was clear from a 1998 IGA that the cost of the directorship was to be born equally between the county and the municipalities. But according to information provided by County Manager Matthew Birnie, the cost of getting the Authority on solid financial footing has been disproportionately born by the County.
This year, the County has budgeted $80,000 for the Authority, compared to just over $100,000 last year and roughly $300,000 the year before. Gunnison, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte have contributed between $25,000 and $35,000 each.
“By making the Board of County Commissioners the board of the Housing Authority, it naturally morphed into a county department,” said Channell. “I think the governance could look more like the Gunnison Valley Rural Transportation Authority where every entity has appointees of even number and there is independent ownership.”
Channell and Birnie both wondered if the municipalities would renew the IGA for a period of three years, with the intent of restructuring the governance. While the city of Gunnison readily supported continuing the Authority, Crested Butte and Mt. Crested Butte questioned the return on investment.
“We have a lot of council members who can’t put their arms around it yet and need to understand why are we spending $29,000 and what they’re getting for it,” said Mt. Crested Butte Town Manager Joe Fitzpatrick.
“You mentioned the intention as a community resource,” Crested Butte Mayor Aaron Huckstep said. “We’ve now spent a whole lot of staff time and a whole lot of money for an outside consultant to rework the methodology and nexus for how to set affordable housing fees. It’s safe to say we did not find the Housing Authority to serve as a real functional resource.”
Huckstep felt it was important to outline the expected results from the Authority. Birnie pointed out that the governing process would take care of some of that but also clarified that housing authorities create and manage housing; they do not develop town and county polices.
Commissioner Phil Chamberland turned Fitzpatrick’s and Huckstep’s points around, wondering what the county got for its investment.
“Frankly the need typically will land in the municipalities. I would turn the question back to you. For us, to do away with the Housing Authority makes our lives a whole lot simpler,” Chamberland said.
As time ran out, Commissioner Paula Swenson asked the town and city managers and mayors to keep the discussion going.
“We need a commitment before we go out and hire a director,” Swenson said.
Former Commissioner Jim Starr suggested that the mayors and town managers work out details before going to the councils for a funding decision. Birnie, the mangers and the mayors agreed, including Mt. Crested Butte Mayor William Buck who had remained quiet for most of the discussion.
“I would agree with Jim’s suggestion,” Buck said. “I don’t think we’re not willing to talk about it.”
No timeline has been set, but Birnie did say he hoped to see the discussions happen as soon as possible.