Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County

County 5:  No Representation Without Taxation New Taxes on the Horizon; 5 Cent Gas Tax Lurking

The Columbia County 5 from left to right: Commissioners Ronald Williams;
Rusty DePratter; Bucky Nash; Everett Phillips; Scarlet Frisina

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The County's second budget workshop/special meeting kicked off at 9 am yesterday morning. County Manager to be, Ben Scott, and County Chair Rusty DePratter drew up an agenda which did not include any suggested items for action. (Agenda by PowerPoint. More Wacky Gov't From FL's Good Ole' Boys).  By the time the morning was over, the County 5 had authorized County Attorney Joel Foreman to draw up ordnances establishing a Professional Sports Franchise Facility Tax; adding a Communications Services Tax; and to begin the process of establishing a Code Enforcement Special Magistrate. The gas tax, while discussed, was left lurking in the wings.

Bad Business


As the meeting got underway, Chairman DePratter decided to add a section of public comment to the agenda for items which would come up for an action or vote. Your reporter asked why these items weren't on the agenda, "How is anybody supposed to know what is on the agenda for action?"

Chairman DePratter answered, "Everything we’re going to act on is on the internet."

Your reporter followed up, "I looked at the agenda. There’s 15 items. It says, continued discussions with possible action. How is anybody supposed to know what you are acting on to make intelligent comments? (holds up the agenda) This is the agenda. This is what it says, 'with possible action.' There’s 15 items. How is anybody supposed to know? ... Are these meetings now run by PowerPoint?"

Chairman DePratter responded, "This is how we’re going to run this meeting today."

Chairman DePratter asked County Manager to be, Assistant County Manager, Ben Scott, for further explanation.

The day's proposed DePratter/Scott motions were included in a 95 page PowerPoint (PPT) presentation, which according to Mr. Scott was updated the day before the meeting. What Mr. Scott didn't reveal was that the update time was at 9:15pm the night before.

Ultimately, it didn't make a difference, as only a handful of staff members showed up at the meeting. There was only one member of the public present.

About 30 minutes into the meeting, County Attorney Foreman pointed out The 5 had not approved the morning's agenda.

The 5: Contemplating Millions and Millions in Expenditures

The County 5 is again exploring building a new jail at cost of $30,000,000 plus, and, upgrading the Sheriff's communications system, which will eventually cost between $16,000,000 and $20,000,000.

The 5 authorized establishing the position of a second assistant county manager and in answer to a question by your reporter, said the person filling that slot was Public Works Director, Kevin Kirby.

Your reporter asked if Mr. Kirby was qualified. No one answered the question.

The 5 Cent Gas Tax

A gas tax is a regressive tax, which means that the people that can afford it the least are impacted the most.

Columbia County is a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern (RACEC). This means that Columbia County is under-educated; under-employed; has low household income; depressed economic activity; a lack of business competitiveness; and is an area of persistent poverty. The wizards in Tallahassee have recently renamed RACEC communities Areas of Opportunity.

In 2014, 65.1% of Columbia County's students were on free and reduced lunch, a strong indicator of poverty.

In 2014, the Columbia County Per Capita Income was 39% below Florida's ($18,964 vs. $26,451), while Median Household Income was 26% below Florida's ($37,534 vs. $47,309). These are statistics the County 5 does not reveal.

Asst. County Manager Scott told The 5 that an additional 5 cent gas tax will bring in an estimated $1,418,767.

After a brief explanation about taxes, Mr. Scott asked for comments or motions.

Commissioner Williams said he will never vote to increase the millage rate to pay for road infrastructure. "The fairest tax is a user tax. The people that tearin' up the roads, not tearin' them up, but the wear and tear on the roads... I will support the increase in the gas tax. I will support a five cent increase in gas tax," he said.

Commissioner Nash commented on road building/maintenance, "I don't know how to solve this problem and take care of all your other systemic issues. The five cent gas tax is 1.4 [million dollars]. You need more."

Mr. Scott explained that the extra money obtained from the tax would be to match grant money from DOT.

Commissioners Frisina, Phillips, and DePratter did not comment on the rise in the gas tax.

Expect the gas tax to come up again.


Fire and trash rates look like they may also be on the rise.

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