Houston County commissioners voted unanimously on March 19 to send a letter to State Sen. Jeremy Miller and Rep. Greg Davids, asking them to oppose a controversial bill.

The Southeast Minnesota Multi-county Housing and Redevelopment Authority (SEMMCRA) is mentioned specifically in House File 1027.

That legislation grants the entity the authority, upon approval of a two-thirds majority of all its members, to levy up to "25 percent of the total amount permitted under Minnesota Statute 469.033, Subdivision 6." The Senate version of the act is SF #896.

The opening of the board's letter states:

"The Houston County Board of Commissioners is opposed to House File #1027 which would give SEMMCHRA levying authority without approval by the governing body of cities/counties within which the authority operates."

Whether or not the measure would actually allow SEMMCRA to levy taxpayers for administering Section 8 vouchers is unknown.

Those vouchers have been a bone of contention for Houston County commissioners for some time.

Commissioners wrote: "As you may know, SEMMCRA has control of all Section 8 vouchers for Houston County and has made multiple requests for financial assistance from our county. However, they have not been forthcoming with the financial data we have requested."

The last time SEMMCRA executive director Joe Wheeler was as recorded as appearing before the board was Aug. 24, 2004.

The last funding request went before the Houston County board on Jan. 17, 2012. Commissioners were told to pay SEMMCRA $6,415, or the agency would refuse to take any new vouchers.

The board responded by hosting a meeting on Feb. 14, 2012, with commissioners from Fillmore, Dodge, Winona and Wabasha counties.

That's when Bluff Country Housing and Redevelopment Authority (BCHRA) offered to oversee the voucher program for the amount provided by HUD (Housing and Urban Development) without seeking additional payments.

Houston and Fillmore counties now utilize BCHRA, not SEMMCRA.

Also from that 2012 meeting, former Houston County Chairman Jack Miller said, "We were told we're over $6,000 in arrears. It's kind of like sending a kid off to college. You only hear from them when they want money. What are we getting? I'm on my fourth year on the board, and I've never seen anybody from there."

Fillmore County Commissioner Chuck Amunrud added, "We're being billed for something we have never seen any authority on. We've never seen a report. We've never seen a budget, and we don't see the comings and goings."

Houston County commissioners passed a resolution on Feb. 28, 2012, requesting that state and federal legislators "work with HUD to transfer administration of the Section 8 vouchers being utilized by residents of our county to Bluff Country HRA."

To date, that has not happened. Neither has HUD agreed to issue any new vouchers to BCHRA, according to commissioners.

When contacted by the Herald, SEMMCRA administrative assistant Karen DuCharme described the group as a public, non-profit entity.

According to the Rochester Post-Bulletin, Dodge County commissioners have hired a lobbyist to oppose the measure, which they believe would result in a levy being placed on their constituents.

The Winona Post reports that Wheeler recently appeared before the St. Charles City Council, explaining that his agency could potentially collect administrative costs related to at least one housing development under the measure.

He purportedly added that opposition to the bill relates to the fact that the SEMMCRA board is not an elected body.

Wheeler said that his board includes "two commissioners from the four member counties along with a mayor and a city council member."

Houston County's letter to Miller and Davids concludes with this, "We are very much opposed to another entity being granted authority to levy tax dollars within our county without our approval, for a program over which we have no control."