Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County

5-Year Library Plan Developed Without Any Public Meetings – Only the Chosen Participated

$9 Mil+ to be spent during the next 5 years

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – At 5:30 pm last Thursday evening, a new era of Columbia County management began in the home of the homeless Columbia County 5. With 30+ year veteran County Manager Dale Williams officially gone, new County Manager, Ben Scott, and his $95k sidekick, Assist. County Manager Scott Ward, have taken over the helm of Columbia County. The first casualty: telling the truth about the 5-Year Library Plan.

Background: No Representation Without Taxation

Recently, Columbia County residents, excluding those in Lake City and Fort White, got nailed with a 400% increase in their cell phone tax (Columbia County 5 Nixes Honest Taxation: Jacks Up Cell Phone, Business Phone, TV Taxes 400%). The County residents in the unincorporated area of the County will now fund the library through an accounting trick: use as a source of library revenue an increase in the cell phone tax.

The main Columbia County Library is located in the heart of downtown Lake City. City residents do not contribute to this library funding source: the City uses its cell phone tax for something else.

Read more about Columbia County's Libraries here.

The County 5 could have set up a Municipal Service Benefit Unit (MSBU) or a Library Taxing District to fund the library, but instead continued to rely on the famous Columbia County Bucket Theory of Budgeting: get the money from one place and then transfer it all around to keep the public in the dark about how it spends its money.

The Cell Phone Tax ordinance does not state that the money collected (estimated at $900k) will be used for the Columbia County Library System, or any library. The County may use the money for anything it wants.

The Last 5-Year Plan: 2010 - 2015

The 2010-2015 5-Year Plan included a series of public meetings, which included discussion. Input was allowed from only the handpicked committee members. Library Director Debbie Paulson made it crystal clear that comments from the public were not welcome during these public sessions. In the library lobby were little survey cards for the public to complete and turn in.

Based on the current budget The 5 will spend $9,000,000+ during the next 5 years.

The County 5 took no interest in the plan. Library Director Paulson did not present it to The 5 at any public meeting. Like this year's plan, it was inserted in the consent agenda which is where the County 5 does its business.

The Current Plan: 2015 – 2020

Last Thursday, September 3, was the first time the general public was made aware of the Library 5-Year Plan. It was incorporated in the September 3 consent agenda. The Plan must be submitted to the state before October 1.

Director Paulson: "No Meetings Were Held"

On August 25, 2015, Library Director Paulson sent a memo to then Acting County Manager, Ben Scott. It began:

"In order for the Library to receive State Aid to Libraries, a current long range plan, approved by the Board of County Commissioners, must be on file in Tallahassee at the Florida State Library. The Library's current 2010-2015 plan will terminate at the end of September, 2015.

I developed the new plan using a somewhat different approach from previous plan developments. I did not form a community planning committee and there were no meetings held throughout the planning process."

The 2005 and 2010 5-Year Plans had graphics explaining staffing, expenditures, books, visitors, people using the children's programs, etc. The 2015-2020 5-Year Plan was scrubbed of all graphics.

This was the first your reporter had heard of the new 5-Year Plan.

Your reporter, who is also a property owner and resident of Columbia County told The 5 and County Manager Scott:

"This County has not had one public meeting regarding the
5-Year Plan. You did not ask the Library Director to come here and explain the 5-Year Plan... You pass a library tax on the phone bill, yet nobody knows anything about this plan. I doubt any of you could explain it. I’d like to see you explain it. I’m opposed to the way you do business. It’s wrong and wrong-headed.”

County Manager Scott addressed the issue. There was no explanation of the 5-Year Plan. Library expenditures over the next 5 years are approaching $10,000,000. Mr. Scott explained:

"The public library did numerous meetings. They had – people from the public came in to the library to make suggestions. They filled out forms. I would like to commend Debbie Paulsen, our librarian, this is the first year that we have done this all in-house without paying a consultant to come in. She has the experience that enabled her to prepare this on our own with staff’s help."

An examination of the 2005 and 2010 5-Year Plans show that the last time a consultant was used in the preparation of the 5-year plan was 2005. No consultant was used in 2010, a fact that was pointed out in the 2010 plan.

Double Taxation and the Library: Com. Williams Explains

District 1 Commissioner, Ronald Williams addressed The 5. Commissioner Williams had absolutely nothing to say about the 5-Year Plan, but he did explain his theory of Columbia County library funding and "double-taxation." [As spoken]:

"Mr. Lilker. We talk about the library and the tax on the telephone to pay for it and why the city residents do not. You know what double taxation mean? You sure do, brilliant man – you know what double taxation mean.

Back in the old days the city paid a portion of the library costs. They did it on a percentage base of the cost for the library. The city – the county was deemed as paying double taxation. The city was paying double taxation. That meant that their city resident was paying county taxes and also they were paying city taxes. It was being paid out of the general fund, so it was truly a double taxation – said we’ll payin’ it out of the general fund, so the city wouldn’t have to pay double taxation. It’s illegal for the charge the city residents to pay for somthin’ that they’re payin’ out of general fund to help to pay it out of the city taxes also. So that is why the county pay a hundred percent of that budget."


Chairman DePratter wrapped it up: "I think we explained everything you asked to be explained tonight."

Columbia County, Florida: the legend continues.

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