Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.

County Commission News

Ellisville - No time for a costly utility project
Lake City out of compliance?

Tuesday night the Columbia County Commission approved three utility ordinances and rewrote one in the continuing saga of the Ellisville Utility Boondoggle. A large crowd showed up for the public hearings. Not one person from the county came forward to speak in favor of anything the county had proposed or done regarding the Ellisville Utility or the utility ordinances.

Patrick LeeCitizens Against Forced Utilities member Patrick Lee told the Commission:

I have concerns with the economy of scale with this program.... We have not discussed the elephant in the room. Our economy is in deep recession. Unemployment in Florida has hit 12.3%. Florida is second to California in foreclosures. We’ve heard of cities making drastic cutbacks on essential services. This is not the time for a costly utility project. I pray that each of you would rethink this idea and give grave consideration to where funding from this project is going to come from. If it's higher taxes for county residents; if it’s moving money from any assistance program; if it will jeopardized any essential service, by all means table this project until such a time as our economy has recovered.

At least 5000 residents were opposed and silenced

Five thousand county residents signed petitions against the county's mandatory utility hookup requirement. Board Chairman Ronald Williams decided that the petitions could not be discussed during any public hearing regarding the County Utility Ordinances

The convoluted grandfather clause, which includes only heirs, was invented by the county to placate some of the Residents Against  Forced Utilities.

After your reporter brought to the Board's attention that this wasn't fair and the Family Lot Ordinance referred to relatives as being more than just heirs, the Board changed its mind again.

True to form, the County was not prepared and both the County Commission and the County Attorney, Marlin Feagle, didn't know which family members were included in the Family Lot Ordinance.

When the Observer shared the information, which was in his laptop, with the County's outside council, Brian Armstrong, Commissioner DuPree took exception and your reporter was threatened with expulsion from the meeting for the violation of some unnamed rule. The Observer left his laptop with the attorney for his reference.

Brian Armstrong
Outside Counsel, NGN's Brian Armstrong

A few moments later, Mr. Armstrong, brought the Observer's laptop to the microphone and spoke against amending the Ordinance that evening, which the Board was on track to do. Referring to the Observer's information he said, "I think it would be best to hold off on this amendment tonight. I want to take a look at this."

County's Attorney claims Lake City Utility out of compliance with State Law

Earlier in the evening, Mr. Armstrong ruled that state law does not allow voluntary hook up, making Lake City was out of compliance with the Florida Statutes.

Mr. Armstrong has played the judge and jury for his County bosses regarding the recent Citizen's Petition Against Forced Utility Hookups. Mr. Armstrong claimed that "voluntary connections," "connections at the discretion of the citizens" was "in conflict with and inconsistent with Florida Statutes."

In the civilized world a court would decide this question, not Mr. Armstrong, the county's hired hand.

Lake City, Columbia County's regional utility allows discretionary drinking water hookup for all of its citizens.

Both Dave Clanton, the city's Utility Director and Henry Sheldon, the city's Utility Engineer have said that if Lake City's citizens want to use a well, "we let them use a well."

The county's poor planning and desperation has caught the working families of Ellisville and the County in a money trap that they cannot escape.

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