The Rice County Housing and Redevelopment Authority officially split from the county’s Economic Development Authority on Tuesday in a move that will allow former HRA director Deanna Kuennen to focus more on economic development.

“This has been in the works for quite some time. Deanna has done a great job. I think exciting things are going to happen,” said Commissioner Galen Malecha during Tuesday’s HRA meeting.

For more than 30 years, the county contracted HRA work — such as issuing housing vouchers — to a third party. Only five years ago was the county brought back to county management. Kuennen, who also serves as the county’s development director, was assigned as director and was only supposed to spend 14 percent of her time working with the HRA.

“But now it seems they wanted me to focus more on economic development again. I’m definitely very excited,” Kuennen said.

The move to split began after the city of Faribault’s EDA began researching partnering with the county for economic development services. Once the contract between the city and the county was signed in early September, the wheels began to turn for the split ever since.

“Rice County entered into a contract with the City of Faribault to provide augmented economic development services, with the expectation that those services would be provided by the Rice County Economic Development Director. Given this additional time commitment under the contract, it was no longer appropriate to allocate the ED Director’s time to the HRA, particularly when Rice County staff were able to absorb her duties,” Jandro said in an email.

The process to separate the departments moved forward after the contract was approved, but given the infrequency of the HRA meetings, the separation was not complete until this week.

Jandro said she researched all the requirements for transition from a combined department to a split department. Jandro said at the HRA meeting that federal rules “concerning employment of the HRA and EDA are flexible” to accommodate the needs of municipalities.

The new Rice County administrator will now administer and be the clerk for the county’s HRA.

“I’m looking forward to dedicating 100 percent of my time to economic development again,” Kuennen said. “It’s what I was first hired to do.”

Reach reporter Cristeta Boarini at 333-3135. Follow her on Twitter.com @CristetaBoarini

Reach reporter Cristeta Boarini at 333-3135. Follow her on Twitter.com @CristetaBoarini

Born and raised in suburban Chicago, Cristeta graduated from the University of Minnesota Twin Cities with a degree in journalism and cinema studies in 2011. She began working with the Faribault Daily News in September 2012.