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Back Room Politics Rule At Fire Assessment Hearing: County Manager has an epiphany

Residents turned out to this years Fire Assessment Fee hearing. No one was in favor of the stupendous rate increase. It didn't make a difference to the County 5.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Columbia County's legendary County Manager, Dale Williams, pulled a rabbit out of his hat last night when, just after the County Commission rejected a proposal to reduce the proposed 138% increased Fire Assessment Fee for one year (2 for – 3 against), he came up with an epiphany, a way to have all of Columbia County's taxpayers pay for a reduction in the fire assessment for a few apartment owners.

After the Fire Assessment Fee public hearing, in which the County 5 heard resident after resident protest the increased rates, County Manager  Dale Williams explained that until the last minute he was trying to determine ways to lower the assessment for everybody, "but due to legal considerations we're not able to offer that."

He also announced there was nothing he could do for mobile home parks.

Then he mentioned multi-family dwellings. These are apartments. The complaints from apartment owners must have come into the County Manager's private hot line as this was the first time it was mentioned throughout the months long course of the Fire Assessment Fee process.

The City has had multifamily assessment for years. The City rate for a multi family dwelling is $133.54.

Until last night, the rate for a multi family dwelling was the same as that for a private home, $77. The new rate for apartments would have been increased the same as for all homeowners, to $183.

It wasn't. The new rate, as a result of what appears to be some serious lobbying and the usual Columbia County sleight of hand, will be $82.49.

Multifamily dwellings were not figured into the assessment study done by Tindale Oliver. It was not clear if they just didn't do it, or they were told not to do it.

Tindale Oliver: The fire assessment presentation, prepared by Tindale Oliver for the County left out all the zeros, showing numbers in thousands, rather than the way they really were, in millions, so for example, when Tindale Oliver presented a slide showing the cost of the fire assessment study reimbursement, it showed $8 rather than the actual amount, $8,326, or a total for personal services (salaries) of $3,259, rather than $3,259,000.

Not one member of the staff or the infamous County 5 said, "Hey, we really need to show the residents what they are really paying. We need to present accurate numbers."

On the other hand, Tindale Oliver's assessment reports, which were produced for the County Staff and the County 5 showed an accurate presentation of all the numbers.

The secret last minute number crunching

As best as can be determined, County Manager Williams had an epiphany sometime in the past 36 hours, wherein he determined he could lighten the load for apartment owners.

The folks at Tindale Oliver and Nabors Giblin, the County's special assessment counsel, went to work yesterday afternoon after hearing of the County Manager's epiphany to reduce the apartment fire assessment rates.

It is not clear which, if any of the County 5, knew of this. None of them volunteered the information.

Tindale Oliver was in the audience during the rate hearing last night. It is not clear if they came to the meeting with any kind of presentation explaining the new rate class or how they came up with the numbers to support it – nobody asked, which is the typical Columbia County MO.

As County Manager Williams concluded his explanation of the rate reduction for apartment owners, NGN's Heather Encinosa arose from her seat and pulled out of the NGN rabbit hat a stack of amended rate resolutions about a foot high.

The resolutions were passed out to the County 5. Nobody read them. There was no slide to show anybody the new rate chart.

Commissioner Bucky Nash ran as an agent for change and transparancy.

District III Commissioner Bucky Nash, who ran against his business partner, the now legendary Commissioner Jody DuPree, on a platform of being an agent of change and transparency, sat mute.

This year the new assessment reduction is going to be borne by every taxpayer in order to come up with the $70,000 reduction in revenue needed to support the fire assessment.

Just before the vote, Commissioner Nash opined that he thought the new rates, which were up 138% for all Columbia County homeowners, was a good thing. He said the County had to "work on land uses."

During all the rate discussions and workshops, Columbia County's new "agent of change" mostly sat silent. He said that in the future the Fire Assessment "will be equal or more understandable."

The 12th hour amended and adjusted rates passed unanimously, before Commissioner DePratter voted against it.


No one will ever know the real reason for the 12th hour addition of the new rate class. Multi family dwelling owners clearly had the law on their side if they decided to sue the County as a class for not being treated fairly.

Did the County Management try to pull a fast one and just forget about them and get caught? Did Tindale Oliver, who is supposed to be an expert in these matters, just forget; were they told to see if they could get away with leaving the multi family dwelling unit class out?

In Columbia County the legend lives on. 

Comments (to add a comment go here)

Posted on Sept. 9, 2013, Concerned One from Columbia County wrote:

Those of us living here west of I-75 are now preparing our yard signs to vote against all of the sitting the Commissioners, yes even Rusty. If they think for one minute we will forget, they're mistaken.

Bucky will certainly have a hard time explaining how "good" the fees were during his reelection campaign. He will be one-and-out and we're not stopping there.  We're even looking at changing the Charter!  It's time for the citizens to lead.              
                                                             Sincerely, Concerned about poor leadership!


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