Anoka County Commissioner Scott Schulte went from not being a member of the Anoka County Housing and Redevelopment Authority to its chairperson within a few minutes Aug. 27.
Late in its meeting, the Anoka County Board appointed Schulte to fill the District 7 vacancy on the housing and redevelopment authority left by the death of Paul McCarron last month.
McCarron, who served on the Anoka County Board representing District 6 for 20 years and had been chairperson of the authority since its inception in 1994, had remained a member and chairperson of the authority following his retirement from the county board in 2002.
Former County Commissioner Dan Erhart, who represented District 7, gave up his seat on the authority so that McCarron could continue to serve. Schulte defeated Erhart for the county board seat in the 2012 general election.
The Aug. 27 authority meeting immediately followed the county board meeting that morning and Schulte was unanimously elected its chairperson, with County Commissioner Robyn West remaining in the vice chairperson role to which she was elected in January when the authority had its organizational meeting.
Going from not a member to being chairperson right away is a bit unusual, Schulte said.
“I was urged and encouraged by the other members of the authority to be chairperson,” he said.
His experience on the Coon Rapids Housing and Redevelopment Authority where he served as a member and vice chairperson for 12 years as a Coon Rapids City Council member was one reason, according to Schulte.
There are many similarities between the functions of the county and city housing and redevelopment authorities.
McCarron’s term on the county housing and redevelopment authority was scheduled to end Dec. 31, 2013, so Schulte will be filling the vacancy until the end of the year, then he will be appointed to a full five-year term by the county board.
“I believe that elected county board members should serve on the housing and redevelopment authority since it is funded with taxpayers’ money,” Schulte.
Currently, there two non county board members on the housing and redevelopment authority – Bill Nelson in District 2 and Donald Findell in District 4.
According to Schulte, there are two initiatives that he will be working on as the new chairperson.
One is to see if it makes sense for him to go to the city of Coon Rapids, as the largest city in the county in term of population, to broach the possibility of it becoming part of the county’s housing and redevelopment authority, Schulte said.
Right now, Coon Rapids is one of seven cities in the county – Anoka, Blaine, East Bethel, Fridley, Circle Pines and Lino Lakes are the others – that have their own housing and redevelopment authorities and the county authority does not levy taxes in those cities.
“It might be of benefit to both the city of Coon Rapids and the county in terms of redevelopment to have the county authority levy taxes in Coon Rapids,” Schulte said.
Normally, Schulte would not be in favor of that since the Coon Rapids Housing and Redevelopment Authority levies a tax on Coon Rapids property owners, he said.
But it has been suggested that this might be a good idea and he has asked staff to research the issue and “try to sell me on it,” Schulte said.
Schulte’s other initiative is to work toward having the authority’s four senior housing complexes – Savannah Oaks, The Willows of Ham Lake, Chauncey Barett Gardens and The Oaks of Lake George – be self-supporting so the authority is not subsidizing them with tax dollars, he said.
The main issue is at The Oaks of Lake George in Oak Grove where sewer costs are more than the rents can cover, Schulte said.
“We need to see if we can reduce the sewer costs and-or adjust the rents to make it self-sustaining,” he said.
According to Schulte, the county authority has typically rubber-stamped projects brought forward by cities where the county agency has taxing authority.
And while he has no problem with the projects proposed, he would like to make sure that the authority exercises “due diligence” in reviewing them to make sure that they fit the legal parameters, especially when they are controversial, Schulte said.
Schulte gave as an example the use by the city of Ramsey of county housing and redevelopment authority dollars to remove the adult book store in Ramsey, although he said it was a proper use of the funds.
At the authority’s first meeting with Schulte as chairperson, it approved a preliminary tax levy for 2014 in the amount of $1,357,442.
That’s same levy amount as 2013, according to Karen Skepper, housing and redevelopment authority executive director.
The communities affected by the levy are Bethel, Centerville, Columbia Heights, Columbus, Ham Lake, Hilltop, Lexington, Linwood Township, Nowthen, Oak Grove, Ramsey, Spring Lake Park and St. Francis.
The preliminary budget was approved at $1,462,830, with $927,172 of that set aside for projects.
Other revenue sources for the authority are fees and interest.
The authority also approved 2014 budgets and rents for the four senior housing facilities.
There will be 1 percent rent increases for Savannah Oaks and The Willows residents and 2 percent rent hikes for residents of Chauncey Barret and The Oaks of Lake George.
According to Ehlers and Associates, Inc., which was retained by the authority to make budget and rent recommendations for the senior housing developments, the rent increases attempt to balance the authority’s “dual objectives of financial self-sufficiency for each project and the public purpose of providing affordable rental housing for Anoka County seniors.”
Peter Bodley is at [email protected]