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Keep housing office local, independent

Members of The Star News editorial board include Co-Publisher Carol O’Leary, Publisher Kris O’Leary and Editor Brian Wilson.

County residents in need of housing assistance shouldn’t have to contact someone in Spooner to get the help they need.

Taylor County should keep housing program funds with a local agency rather than contracting with a sprawling regional group whose office is a two-hour drive from the city of Medford.

Some members of the Taylor County Board are once again calling for the county to move the management of its housing grant funds from the locally-based and managed Taylor County Housing Authority (TCHA) to the Spoonerbased Northwest Regional Planning Commission. At the same time, other county board members are calling for the county board to have a bigger role in oversight of the housing authority.

This time the issues came up with the announced resignation of current TCHA director Jessica Mudgett who has accepted a similar position in Chippewa County. The TCHA is currently in the process of seeking her replacement.

While housed at the Taylor County Courthouse, TCHA is an independent agency with the agency’s director answerable to a five person board made of up area residents. Two spots on the TCHA are filled by representatives from the Taylor County Board.

Calls to have county board representation be the majority of the TCHA board would undermine the TCHA as an independent organization and make it entirely beholden to the political will of the county board.

For more than a decade, Taylor County has provided an annual subsidy to the agency through a budget line item. The agency gets the bulk of its operating revenues from grant administration fees through the various loan and housing grants it manages. The TCHA, in its future hiring and with the addition of having rental units generating income, is working to wean the agency off of needing the county’s continued subsidy in order to keep the doors open.

There is no question that NWRPC has the capabilities of managing the funds and running housing programs. They do this already, including some programs for which Taylor County residents are eligible.

The question is a matter of accessibility and service. Someone needing housing assistance may not have the resources or ability to call, let alone make the 4-hour round trip to Spooner, to talk with someone. At the same time, representatives in an office 118 miles from Medford will not have the same level of boots-on-the ground knowledge of local resources.

Without someone local to address questions and concerns, those seeking help will likely be dumped onto the already-over burdened human services department which will simply add costs for the county and delays in getting people the help they need.

It is no secret that the current director has drawn political fire from some county board members. It can be hoped that current questioning of the agency and calls to contract with an outside entity are not based on political and personal decisions but in looking for what is good for county taxpayers and residents.

Local residents are best served when assistance is provided locally with people who know the local communities and have ground-level awareness of local issues and opportunities.