By JACOB PERRYMAN
The Warren County Housing Authority's board of directors handled a number of financial matters at its monthly meeting Tuesday, including resolving issues with some security deposit returns.
During her report, Authority Executive Director Tonya Mitchell-Weston asked board members to take action concerning security deposits paid by charitable organizations on behalf of tenants.
The issue centers on incidences in which a charitable organization, in an effort to get clients into housing, pays a security deposit for a tenant. Mitchell-Weston said, in those cases, a number of tenants have received the deposit back upon moving rather than the organization that actually paid the deposit.
Mitchell-Weston said the welfare office, one source which pays for security deposits for low-income tenants, is not permitted to receive those deposits back after a tenant moves as it have no system in place to receive such payments.
"I would like to give it (the deposit money) to another human services group (instead of the tenant), so they can help other people," Mitchell-Weston said, "or put it into our scholarship fund to help that grow."
"I agree," recently-appointed board member Frank Wilcox said. "I think it should go to a local agency to help somebody who needs it."
After some discussion, board members decided to approve releasing the funds to a local charity rather than to tenants who did not pay the deposit in the first place. Although a charity is not named specifically in the board's action, discussion centered around the Community Foundation of Warren County because it distributes funds to a number of charities, and the Salvation Army, which the board believes is allowed to accept such funds.
A tax assessment appeal hearing for the Canterbury Court property has been rescheduled, but the authority has not yet been notified when it will be held.
The authority is also looking into refinancing the mortgage at the property, which will help ease monthly payments of approximately $20,000. According to Mitchell-Weston, the refinancing plan presented by Red Capital Group, LLC., would reduce that payment by approximately $8,000 per month.
"Right now, we're trying to get the Canterbury board to meet with the gentleman from Red Capital on the 28th or 29th (of November)," Mitchell-Weston said.
Following approval by the Canterbury board, the refinancing plan will take approximately four months to close.
Despite rent and housing subsidies totaling $780 per month per unit at the site, bills and maintenance have left Canterbury operating at a loss of tens of thousands of dollars for the year.
Lock-out fees the fees tenants pay to have an authority employee show up if they lock themselves out of their units was changed. Previously, tenants paid a $5 fee for lock-out service, but were charged additionally based on mileage traveled by an authority employee to a unit. The situation indirectly favored residents at Conewango Towers, as authority staff were on-site already during business hours and therefore did not have to charge a fee for mileage. Board members approved implementation of a $25 flat fee regardless of unit location for all lock-out services.
"What I'm hoping it does," Mitchell-Weston said, "is discourage them from constantly locking themselves out and encourages them to be more responsible with their keys. Eventually we'll have to install locks that prevent them from locking themselves out."
Board members also approved raising the cost for snow removal service by maintenance from $15 to $25.
They also approved changing the wording in the new lease set to come before them for approval to state rent is due on the fifth day of the month, rather than on the fifth business day as it is worded now, in an effort to simplify bill paying for tenants by eliminating a constantly moving due date.
The authority is looking into a quote from UPMC Health Plan to compare to new, increased rates being imposed on it by Highmark in the new year. Highmark is asking for a 5 percent increase in what the authority pays for health insurance, an amount negotiated down from an initial increase of 13 percent. The authority will compare a requested UPMC quote with the new Highmark fee.