It is prudent for the Hernando County and Brooksville housing authorities to continue discussions about the county's taking more, if not all, responsibility for the struggling city agency.
Those efforts, though, cannot yield significant progress until the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development makes a commitment to help the city resolve its legal, administrative and financial woes, and then gives its blessing to consolidate the local agencies.
The HUD office in Jacksonville has known for years that the Brooksville Housing Authority was in trouble. In fact, HUD declared the authority "troubled" not long after the executive director and another employee were indicted on charges of stealing the public's money. Since their court convictions, HUD has more closely monitored problems at the authority, including sloppy record keeping, inept management, waste and the ouster of most of the board members.
Now a new board has asked HUD to abolish the city agency and let the Hernando County authority take over. HUD officials say they are reviewing that request. The county, meanwhile, is reluctant to accept that responsibility, partly because of lingering problems, including a lawsuit from an electrical contractor who has not been paid for work he performed.
The arm's length approach of county authority members is understandable. It would be a disservice to the residents and taxpayers they serve to incur risk or liability for problems over which they have no control. The city should be grateful that the county is even considering it.
In that vein, HUD should be grateful, too. If a consolidation does not happen, HUD can opt to continue to babysit the city authority or disband it and take over. Either option drains HUD's resources and, more important, prolongs the possibility that the low-income people who live in this meager housing are not receiving proper assistance.
A consolidation of county and city housing authorities certainly would cut bureaucracy, most likely save money and provide more efficient service to the people who need it.
HUD officials should expedite their review of Brooksville's request, and meet with county and city authority members as soon as possible to ascertain their concerns and wishes.
Once that is done, HUD should be prepared to provide the necessary financial and administrative support to make consolidation a reality.