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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County News

Columbia County 5 & Sheriff Make History
Percent Based Budgeting or Flim-Flam 101

Posted March 20, 2015  11:10 am

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter likes to spend his time at County Commission meetings sitting in the shadows. Last night, before the evening's County 5 meeting was gaveled to order, Commissioner Everett Phillips asked him to sit where folks could see him. He refused. Thirity minutes later, The 5, minus absent Chairman Rusty DePratter made history, when they unanimously voted, without one substantive question, to approve an interlocal agreement between The County and Sheriff, the first of its kind in the history of Florida.

The agreement, between the County and the Sheriff, guaranteed the Sheriff the right to take a piece of every non-restricted revenue source in the County; gave him a reserve fund of $1.3 mil; and said that he would run the County Jail, which was already a County Ordinance. The agreement was prepared by the Sheriff's lawyers at the Florida Sheriff's Association. Sheriff Mark Hunter is now guaranteed 39% of Columbia County's non-restricted revenues in an agreement that is based on two big lies.

Background: Before Sheriff Hunter and the Great Recession


County Attorney, Joel Foreman. The Interlocal was not his work.

For generations, Columbia County, has been known as Florida's quintessential good ole' boy Florida County. Judges, the State Attorney, most County Commissioners, and the Constitutional Officers are elected for life and most of the time, once elected, run unopposed.

Until the recent Great Recession, the County's Constitutional Officers jacked up their budgets and then returned their budget excess revenues back to the County, which squirreled it away in various hidden funds. The County's money trail was impossible to follow. The Sheriff's Office, with the biggest budget among the Constitutionals, contributed the biggest give-back, until the Great Recession impacted everyone's discretionary revenue.

Read more about Columbia County's infamous County 5.

The County's budget process, for most of the last 40 years, was a sham and appeared to be directed, or at least facilitated by the County's long-time external auditor – financial advisor – advisor to the internal auditor – and go-to-guy, Richard Powell. The County's internal auditor, who worked under the direction of the Clerk of the Courts, refused to use a computer and came and went when she felt like it. Richard Powell was her right-hand-man.

Sheriff Hunter comes on the scene


For a little while last night, Sheriff Hunter came out of the shadows.

Elected in 2008, Sheriff Mark Hunter has played softball with the County Commission, barely ever standing up for his underpaid cadre of Road Deputies; Correction Officers; and Court Bailiffs, while making sure his top brass was taken care of.

At budget time, Sheriff Hunter remained in the shadows and made barely a peep.

In 2014, he threatened to walk away from the County Jail and for a short time had a bunch of government officials on edge. The Sheriff's threat turned out to be a hollow ploy. He couldn't walk away. He was required to run the jail by County ordinance. His claim that he needed a new jail has fallen by the wayside.

Percent Based Budgeting
Last Night, Lie Number One: Growth

The Interlocal Agreement rubber stamped by the County 5 last night, states "population and commercial growth" have placed additional requirements on the Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Mark Hunter's first full year in office was 2009. The Great Recession had just hammered the nation. In 2009, according to Florida's Office of Economic and Demographic Research, Columbia County's population was 66,409.

Four years later, 2012, the County's population had grown to 67,729, or 330 a year, a lot of them babies, who had a long way to go before impacting the Sheriff.

By 2014, the County population had grown to 67,826. Between 2009 and 2014 the total growth of Columbia County was 1,415 people.

Lake City
Sheriff Hunter and The 5 left out the rest of the facts


County Manager Williams and Sheriff Hunter waiting for questions from The 5. The public was not invited to participate.

Between 2009 and 2014 Lake City's population had increased by 867 people, from 11,137 to 12,004.

Lake City has its own police force.

The real population growth affecting the Sheriff's Office in the unincorporated area of the County (minus Lake City) was 550 people or 110 a year.

Business growth in Columbia County has remained stagnant. The big zero. Business was so bad; hope so dim; and the interference from the County's infamous good ole' boys so bad that the County's highly regarded Economic Development Director quit and left town.

While Lake City has recently seen the growth of restaurants and some retail, this growth can mainly be attributed to transient traffic from I-75.

It also appears that the Columbia County Jail population has not grown significantly in the past 5 years.

Lie Number 2: The legal basis of the Interlocal

The Interlocal Agreement states the following: "This Agreement is entered into pursuant to the Florida Interlocal Cooperation Act of 1969, Section 163.01, et seq., Florida Statutes and pursuant to powers granted by law to the County and to the Sheriff."

The Florida Interlocal Cooperation Act states at §(4): "A public agency of this state may exercise jointly with any other public agency of the state... any power, privilege, or authority which such agencies share in common and which each might exercise separately."

Columbia County and the Sheriff's Office are considered public agencies.


Commissioner Frisina liked the idea and said people were watching.

Columbia County has the statutory authority to collect taxes; the Sheriff's Office does not. They do not share the ability to collect taxes in common. Columbia County collects the money that allows the Sheriff to operate his office. The Sheriff spends the money.

Columbia County has the ability to make laws (local ordinances); the Sheriff does not.

A County Ordinance requires the Sheriff to run the County Jail. The Interlocal re-states that the Sheriff will run the jail and that the County will maintain it. This is nothing new, except that the Interlocal says that the County won't rescind the ordinance during the term of the agreement.

However, another paragraph states that either the County or the Sheriff can rescind the Interlocal Agreement without notice or cause.

Percent Based Budgeting: Hype - The End Result

The County 5 and the Sheriff are hyping that they now "share the risk."

There is no risk. Sheriff Hunter now has a free money ride and is further insulated from explaining to the people what he is doing with the taxpayers' money, while having a finger in each pot of unrestricted county funds.

Epilogue:

County Manager Dale Williams, when asked before the meeting, did not reveal who wrote the Interlocal Agreement, but with a smile, he pointed to Columbia County's newly elected County Attorney, Joel Foreman. The deal was in the works over a year before Mr. Foreman was elected.

Mr. Foreman clearly did not prepare the Interlocal Agreement and he took no ownership of it at all. He told your reporter that he "reviewed it."

Mr. Foreman did not look happy during the evening's discussion.

Sheriff Hunter claimed the "legal beagles" reviewed the Interlocal Agreement. What he didn't man-up-to was his attorneys, the attorneys that prepared the Interlocal, are the attorneys for the Florida Sheriffs Association.

No other county in the history of Florida has ever made this type of arrangement.

This certainly says something about Columbia County, who last night just gave away 39% of its budget to the Sheriff – guaranteed.

 

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