A legal opinion suggesting that Anoka County take the lead in determining how federal stimulus money is spent for housing redevelopment projects continues to be widely criticized by County Board members who say that cities have always determined how housing money is spent.

"This I regard as a very significant change of view," Anoka County Attorney Robert Johnson said of the opinion offered by Faegre & Benson attorney Stefanie Galey.

"We need to continue to look at it," Johnson said. "It's a boiling issue right now."

With more than $300,000 in stimulus funds available to the county, a heated discussion took place last week at a county Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) committee meeting. Dennis Berg and Rhonda Sivarajah were among the commissioners who said that cities should have first crack at determining how HRA money is used in their communities.

"We're happy to work voluntarily with our cities," Berg said, but added that cities know neighborhoods better than the county does.

"We've empowered the cities that have taken charge with HRA issues in the past," Sivarajah said. "I don't want the county to take that away."

With HRA committee chairman Paul McCarron away on vacation, further debate has been put on hold for a few weeks, Johnson said.

Galey is the county's independent bond attorney and is well respected by Johnson and county commissioners. She said she is not surprised that her opinion will be discussed. She expected it, she said.

"It's not like we tell [the County Board] what to do," she said. "We don't decide. We don't make policies. We don't take action and we don't request action. It's a legal opinion."

More than a dozen years ago, when Anoka County initiated its HRA, some of the larger communities preferred handling things themselves. The county was glad to stay out of the way, Berg said.

But the $306,671 in stimulus money targeted for HRA projects comes directly to the county. Only Coon Rapids has federal Housing and Urban Development (HUD) entitlement status and receives its own applications for funds, and those applications must pass through the county, said Karen Skepper, county community development manager.

HUD awards grants, based on a formula, to entitlement communities that can be used for programs to revitalize neighborhoods, spur economic development and make other community improvements.

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419