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  1. Hernando

Hernando County housing authority gives a tentative okay to managing the Brooksville Housing Authority

Summit Villas, a property of the Brooksville Housing Authority.
Summit Villas, a property of the Brooksville Housing Authority.
Published Jun. 10, 2019

BROOKSVILLE — The Hernando County Housing Authority on Monday tentatively agreed to take over management of the Brooksville Housing Authority as Brooksville goes through a transition of its status as required by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Details of a formal agreement will come back for a final approval in July.

Monday's discussion included a series of concerns voiced by Hernando County Housing Authority Chairman Paul Sullivan, who worried that issues that have plagued the Brooksville authority would become their problem, including any outstanding financial debts.

He questioned a $46,000 water bill for leaking pipes at an abandoned housing project site that the previous Brooksville authority executive director had not resolved. And he asked why that director, Tommy Brooks, was given a six-month severance package.

Sullivan was also perturbed that none of the regular members of the Brooksville authority attended Monday's meeting or a past board meeting despite the seriousness of the discussion.

The Brooksville authority attorney, Ricardo Gilmore, was present to plead his board's case.

He said that the water issue was a problem that had accumulated over time and that the severance package was part of the contract that Brooks had with the authority.

Gilmore agreed that he would tell his board members that they were expected to attend the next meeting, when the formal agreement will be struck. He assured Sullivan that the agreement would be for management only and that the county housing authority would have no financial liability for past debts of the Brooksville authority.

In fact, he noted that the Brooksville authority has about $400,000 in its coffers currently and expected more federal dollars in the future to continue ongoing obligations.

Gilmore was approaching the county authority formally Monday in hopes of moving Brooksville through its transition and getting help with a new affordable housing project.

Gilmore said that the Brooksville authority hopes to close on the sale of Hillside Estates by the end of the month. Hillside Estates is one of the two public housing developments the authority was responsible to run, but they were shut down seven years ago because of poor conditions. Since then, the Brooksville authority has been trying to sell the sites or possibly redevelop them.

On May 21, the Brooksville authority accepted a bid of $1.7 million from Pasco-based Premier Housing Investments, LLC, to buy the 13.4 acres at Hillside Estates. As Gilmore explained, the plan is to use the proceeds from that sale to redevelop Summit Villas into an affordable housing development, like the one the county's housing authority developed at Magnolia Gardens in 2012.

Previous coverage: Brooksville Housing Authority gets buyer for Hillside Estates

The Brooksville Housing Authority was put on notice earlier this year to move forward with its housing units and to find a new manager. Housing and Urban Development officials ended their payments for Brooks' salary on May 31.

While the Brooksville authority members agreed to the six-month severance package, the federal agency granted just the six-month package for part-time wages giving Brooks $13,865, Cliff Manuel, a member of the Brooksville authority, told the Times.

Previous coverage: Federal officials tell Brooksville Housing Authority to find new manager

Donald Singer, executive director of the Hernando County Housing Authority, estimated that taking over the Brooksville duties would likely not require more than 20 hours per month to start with and that if the duties became more complex over time, the deal could always be renegotiable. He said a monthly payment of approximately $1,000 should cover his time and that of his staff.

In the past, there had been talk of the two authorities merging, but Gilmore explained that Florida law doesn't allow that. Officials discussed working on redeveloping Summit Villas possibly as a joint venture in the future but noted that first they would have to come to agreement on terms for the management plan.

Shaun Andrew, a member of the county's housing authority, congratulated Brooksville for getting such a good price for Hillside Estates, which he said would likely need to be torn down. He also noted that he knew the buyer had done smaller projects before.

Gilmore said he was also surprised at the price but that perhaps "somebody knows something that I don't know.''

Sullivan asked Gilmore if any of the members of his housing authority board were connected to the new developer and Gilmore said he wasn't sure, but he would ask. The Brooksville Housing Authority board includes several influential local business leaders including chairman Randy Woodruff, an accountant with numerous political connections; Manuel, who is president of Coastal Engineering; and prominent realtor Gary Schraut.

They were among the people who came onto the housing board to right the agency after a former authority executive director and another employee were convicted of stealing federal housing dollars in 2007.

Contact Barbara Behrendt at bbehrendt@tampabay.com or (352) 848-1434.