Monday, October 09, 2006

TOP STORY>>Authority sorting out its finances

Leader staff writer

The newly appointed Jacksonville Housing Authority Board of Commissioners is trying to sift through the troubled agency’s budget and convince the Internal Revenue Service that it is not owed $72,000 in withholding taxes.

Through its rental apartments at the Max Howell Place and federal Section 8 housing vouchers, the Jacksonville Housing Authority handles approximately $2 million a year in subsidies, although commissioners are not sure about the exact figure.
But budgets requested by The Leader through a Freedom of Information Act do not appear to have those figures included anywhere.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” said Mike Wilkinson, a new board member, referring to the way the budget is written.
The new JHA board doesn’t know why the 2004, 2005 and 2006 budgets reflect only six-figure expenditures.

Following the board’s meeting Thursday, Jim Durham, its new chairman, explained that U.S. Housing and Urban Develop-ment officials have assured him that all the funds necessary for a housing authority budget are there.

Virginia Simmons, who served as the JHA executive director for 14 years, resigned this summer, as did three of four commissioners, who stepped down after a HUD review got underway to look into possible mismanagement involving ap-parent back-dated contracts and potentially thousands of dollars being returned to HUD unused in the past. The $72,000 demand by the IRS is a holdover from the previous executive director’s administration.

Durham has spoken to an accountant outside the JHA office and believes the IRA demand is an “assessment on paper” be-cause taxes were filed in the improper way. These taxes were dealing with payroll withholdings.

From now on, an independent accountant, not an executive director and/or office personnel, will be handling the taxes, he said.

“There may be a small penalty, though,” Durham told other commissioners.

At its meeting Thursday, the board nominated Addie Gibson to its last remaining vacant position, checked out the bid process to bring air conditioning to the Max Howell Place apartment complex, agreed to update an antiquated office computer system and sought ways to restore the general public’s faith in the housing authority as it tries to provide shelter to low-income individuals and families.

The newly appointed commissioners — Marilyn Canon, John Johnson, Wilkinson and Durham — want to adopt a positive outlook at the housing authority. Under the direction of both the remaining JHA personnel and the new commissioners, a bid of $283,720 to secure air-conditioning units for Max Howell Place tenants has now been accepted.

Roberson Heating and Air of Searcy had the winning bid.

During the first meeting of the new board, commissioners learned that Max Howell Place tenants were expected to pay for their own window air-conditioners if they wanted any relief from Arkansas’ hot and humid summers.

Plans were also discussed to convert a vacant duplex at the Max Howell Place into a police substation. This duplex has remained vacant for several years after a meth-lab drug bust took place in one of the two units within the duplex, according to Durham.

But for now, Jim Potter, a Pulaski County sheriff’s deputy, will continue his job, which entails background checks and about seven hours of employment each week.

This week, Barbara Boyd, assistant director who now oversees day-to-day operations of the JHA, explained that this month, JHA has delivered 311 vouchers for families “under lease.”

The total came to $101,401.39, plus about a $3,960 to settle a Chapel Ridge Apartment complex account.