Housing authority cuts affect pay for city police officersPublished 12:05am Wednesday, June 13, 2012
NATCHEZ — Dramatic funding cuts for the Natchez Housing Authority have caused the authority to cut spending, which could include $60,000 for salaries of two Natchez police officers.shipping
Natchez Housing Authority Director Alan Ingram said the authority has paid the city $60,000 for several years for two extra patrol officers to provide security at the properties it operates. Ingram said he also believes the officers perform other police duties beyond security.
Natchez Interim Police Chief Danny White could not reached Tuesday for clarification on what the officers do.
Ingram reported to the Natchez Board of Aldermen at its Tuesday meeting that the housing authority may have to cut the $60,000 for the officers out of its budget.
“That’s not good,” Ward 5 Alderman Mark Fortenbery said to Ingram.
Ingram said the housing authority stopped receiving its operating subsidy funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development in January after the government cut 2012 funding allocations to public housing authorities with excess operating reserves.
The Natchez Housing Authority, Ingram said, was receiving $65,000 a month from HUD for the subsidy. Additionally, Ingram said, the authority’s capital improvements grant funding was cut $100,000, money that was helping to fund the officers’ salaries.
Ingram said five of the 54 housing authorities in Mississippi received no subsidies beginning in January.
“Normally we were getting $65,000; now we’re getting zero, so you can imagine the impact,” Ingram said.
The operating subsidy, Ingram said after the meeting, offsets a lot of the expenses of the 296 apartments the authority operates, including insurance, maintenance vehicles, liability and utility expenses for the various properties and offices. Any remaining money is put into the general operation fund.
Capital funds, Ingram said, are used for big-ticket items for the apartments, including new stoves, refrigerators, roofs or other similar costly items.
The authority, Ingram said, handles its day-to-day operations with income from rent or payments from residents for damages to apartments. According to the latest financial statements, the authority is projecting it will collect $484,000 in rent this year.
Ingram said the Natchez Housing Authority had $2 million in its operating reserve when it was forced to foot its own bill for 2012. That $2 million “nest egg” is money Ingram said took 24 years to save. He said the authority has just more than $1 million left in its reserve.
Ingram said he believes forcing the housing authority to cut into his reserve is dangerous.
“All it would take would be a significant event, like a tornado, to wipe out all of our units,” Ingram said. “We would have to close the doors. Insurance only covers so much. And with FEMA, we all know how that went with Katrina. The coastal housing authorities never recovered from what they lost.”
Because of the funding cuts, Ingram said, the housing authority has been forced to use its reserve money for capital improvements, namely at Williams Apartments.
“(The apartments) are in nice shape, but we’re spending a disproportionate amount of money into Williams (Apartments) just to keep them functional and acceptable for HUD standards,” Ingram said.
Funding for the capital improvements can be unpredictable, Ingram said. He said the Natchez Housing Authority has received as much as $780,000 with stimulus funding and as little as $350,000 in a year.
Ingram said he is trying to keep all of his staff through the funding cuts and said the office staff has resorted to reusing copy paper and other items to cut spending.
In order to be eligible for an operating subsidy again, Ingram said, the Natchez Housing Authority will have to obligate four to six months of its operating reserve in preparation for the next fiscal year, which begins in October. Ingram said he plans to obligate six months of its operating reserve — totaling $780,000 — to try to get a subsidy.
Without the subsidy or increased capital improvements funding, Ingram said the Natchez Housing Authority will be forced to cut the supplement for the police officers’ salaries in October and possibly residents’ services in the future.
The Natchez Housing Authority, Ingram said, is eligible for a $650,000 operating reserve, but Congress will decide what percentage of that subsidy is funded, he said.
Ingram said the funding burden facing the Natchez Housing Authority is facing public housing authorities across the nation.
Ingram said the Natchez Housing Authority could eventually close if the operating subsidy and other funding is not restored. He said the authority would try everything it could, including raising rent and fees for residents and cutting services, to keep its doors open.
“I don’t ever want to think in those terms,” Ingram said. “We help people who can’t help themselves. Some people would have nowhere to go without out us.”
Ingram said he knows people believe that public housing is abused, which he said is true to some degree.
“But a vast majority of our people are good folks, and they deserve a decent roof over their head, and they wouldn’t have it without us,” he said.