Cook County Board denies merger of HRA and EDA
WTIP file photo

Cook County Board denies merger of HRA and EDA

After months of discussion by various appointed officials and community members, the Cook County Board of Commissioners voted not to approve a merger of the local Economic Development Authority (EDA) and the Housing Redevelopment Authority (HRA).

“To tie the HRA with the EDA at this point in time would be detrimental,” said Commissioner Deb White.

The commissioners voted 3-2 to deny a resolution that would merge the HRA and the EDA. Voting against the merger were White and her fellow Commissioners Ginny Storlie and Stacey Hawkins. Voting in support of the merger were Ann Sullivan and Dave Mills. The votes came during a meeting of the Cook County Board of Commissioners May 9 at the courthouse in Grand Marais.

The troubled history of the EDA, a current emphasis on needed housing across the county, and public support of the HRA were reasons cited by the commissioners for why the merger was not a good idea. In addition, Hawkins said the HRA has not been given enough time to show how effective it will be.

“We’re going into our building season and we still don’t have one stick of housing, yet,” she said.

Mills said he was “disappointed” and “nervous” regarding the choice not to merge the EDA and the HRA. Mills praised the work being done by current HRA Director Jason Hale during Tuesday’s meeting, stating numerous times that he believes having Hale lead both organizations would be the right choice.

While voicing his support of the plan to combine the organizations, Mills also referenced the fact both the HRA and EDA boards voted to approve the merger. The EDA Board voted 4-1 in March to approve a resolution supporting the merger. The HRA Board followed suit the following day, approving the measure on a unanimous vote.

The HRA was formed in August 2021 following a 5-0 vote by the Cook County Board of Commissioners. The HRA was formed to address a critical issue facing the community, the board of commissioners said upon approving the entity, that being a lack of housing in Cook County.

Similar to the EDA, the HRA was created with levy authority, though its budget must be approved annually by the county board. The initial budget for the HRA in 2022 was $125,000. The work of the HRA has been largely praised by the community following the hiring of Hale in March 2022.

The Cook County/Grand Marais Joint Economic Development Authority, meanwhile, was created in 1988. The agency has a checkered past in the eyes of many local residents, with questionable land sales, funding for a local golf course, and the handling of financials and a business park in Grand Marais being among the varied issues that have made headlines in recent years.

Meanwhile, the EDA board is now tasked with finding a new executive director. The EDA has been without a director following the resignation of Beth Drost in January.

Listen to the audio below to hear Commissioner Deb White during Tuesday’s meeting. Click here for audio of Commissioner Dave Mills explain why he wanted the HRA and EDA merger to occur.