Gov. Gary Herbert has moved to restructure the Department of Community and Culture, a step that has been months in the making but has upset housing advocates who fear programs for low-income and homeless people will be swept aside.
Under the decision made Tuesday, the Department of Workforce Services will absorb the Division of Housing and Community Development, which had been an important part of the Department of Community and Culture. About 60 employees will shift to DWS, while around 90 will stay in the current department.
The governor's spokeswoman, Ally Isom, said the change made sense because Workforce Services and Community Development serve many of the same customers.
Employees at the Department of Community and Culture were notified of the changes through a memo issued Tuesday evening. The high-level reorganization was not publicly announced. The memo estimated that it would save taxpayers about $1 million a year. Isom said layoffs are not anticipated.
"They have some of the same eligibility determination processes, so we think we can consolidate some of those and create some efficiencies," said Isom, who previously was deputy director of Community and Culture and government affairs director at Workforce Services.
But Tim Funk, a housing specialist at Crossroads Urban Center, said Herbert is making a big mistake in moving the housing programs to DWS.
"We're going to fight it," said Funk, who plans to make his case to the Legislature, which still must sign off on the reorganization. "We were hoping the governor would do the right thing â¦ and I don't think they paid any attention to anything. I think their mind was made up."
Funk said that the people that use the housing programs are a different population than those who participate in workforce services and community development programs, and housing needs won't get the attention they need at DWS.
It would make more sense to meld the housing programs with the Utah Housing Corporation or possibly move them into the Governor's Office of Economic Development.
"The state has had a checkered history running the low-income housing programs. They've never been well-enough staffed, they've always been kind of out-of-the-way and ignored by the Legislature," Funk said. "Putting those programs over in Workforce Services will push them further down the food chain, I think and that's not a good thing."
The remaining divisions in Community and Culture the Office of Multi-cultural Affairs, Indian Affairs, Arts and Museums, State History and the State Library will be renamed and focus narrowly on issues of culture and heritage.
"It benefits the customer and the governor has said all along â¦ that we're not just moving Legos around here," Isom said. "He really wants to find something that is a meaningful improvement."
The director of the department will continue to be a member of the governor's Cabinet. The offices will have to physically relocate, since the department's lease is expiring.
The reorganization of Community and Culture was recommended by a task force Herbert appointed last year to study how to optimize state government.
The restructuring has not been without controversy, as a proposal to eliminate the Office of Ethnic Affairs during the last legislative session was met with stiff resistance from the minority community. And earlier this year, the department fired two archaeologists as part of a cost-cutting effort.
firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @RobertGehrke