Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County

Columbia County 5: Gas & Cell Phone Taxes May Be on the Rise

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Beginning on April 30, 2015, continuing on May 28, and concluding yesterday on June 25, The County 5 held three budget meetings spending 8 hrs. 30 min. looking at PowerPoint presentations, many of which were repeated. During all three meetings increases of the gas tax and cell phone tax were on the docket.

The 5, in the fog about how meetings work and are labeled, called the meetings workshops/special meetings. The meetings were scheduled by Ben Scott, the Assistant County Manager, who is in charge of the day-to-day operations of the county. The meetings were single-subject board meetings to discuss and make recommendations (motions) about the budget. At the beginning of the year, Mr. Scott cleared the meeting dates with each member of The 5 before posting them on the County website.

Rusty DePratter: "We need to spend the money we have."

The only thing special about the meetings was that the Thursday 9 am schedule kept the general working public, the taxpayers, from attending the meetings, making comments, and watching their elected officials and local government at work.

Library Funding: The Westside Library, etc.

The Westside library branch is five miles or about an eight minute ride down U.S. 90 from the Main Branch of the Columbia County Public Library building.

The debate about whether to keep the part-time Westside library branch open and funded has been ongoing since 2011.

Four years later, after spending down all the library reserves, $2,000,000,  the County 5 had not come up with a library funding solution.

During the April 30, 2015, budget meeting Ben Scott told The 5 it was time to find that solution.

On May 28, Mr. Scott came back with a solution – raise the Communications Service Tax – the tax on your cell phone.

The 5 approved drawing up an ordinance raising the Cell Phone Tax 3.92% to produce a revenue stream of $867,150. According to Mr. Scott, $617,620 is needed for library operation.

Closing the part-time Westside branch would save approximately $200,000 according to the County.

The Alternative Proposal

The alternative proposal would be setting up a Municipal Service Benefit Unit or a special library district and funding it directly with a fund approved by the people and funded each year.

This would require accurate and honest accounting would eliminate the Columbia County infamous budget sleight of hand.

This plan was not mentioned by either Mr. Scott, or any of The 5.

The Gas Tax & Road Improvements

In modern times, Columbia County has never had a road improvement program that lasted. Road improvement and road building has always been a "by the seat of your pants" proposition in Columbia County. Money would be allocated to a road project and then shifted somewhere else, leaving some roads paved or repaired, and some neglected.

Heflin, in the south end of the county, was a secret paving job reportedly paved because one of the county's well connected "didn't want to get dust on her car."

Revenue for roads came from various DOT funding sources and County funds.

This year The County 5 is looking to bring in revenue for roads by increasing the gas tax 5 cents a gallon.

Commissioner Ronald Williams has said he is in favor of raising the gas tax 5 cents. At yesterday's meeting, Commissioner Bucky Nash said, "I'm not opposed to raising the gas tax."

So far Commissioners DePratter, Phillips, and Frisina have not weighed in. The County is preparing an ordinance to raise the tax.


County Commission Chairman, Rusty DePratter, a short while before post time, told the Observer, "We have an excellent [road improvement] system, particularly compared to other counties. Ben (Ben Scott, Asst. County Manager) needs to prepare the floor budget. We need to spend the money we have. Then we will see how much can be allocated to roads."

Graphic: mygovcost.org

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