Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

Real news for working families.  An online newspaper

County News

Sheriff/County Percent Based Budget Deal Leaves Deputies on the Short End of the Stick – Again

See: Col Cnty Sheriff Deputies: paid less for doing more. In 2017, a deputy earns $33,000.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  This past Thursday night, April 20, 2017, the County 5 demonstrated once again why no other county, other than Columbia County, has adopted percent based budgeting for the County Sheriff's Office. The Sheriff is guaranteed 39% of the county's unrestricted revenue.

Thursday night the County 5 transferred a $457,025 bonanza to the Sheriff and an unbudgeted additional $279,100 for vehicles, on top of the $255,000 already allocated toward vehicles in the 2017 Sheriff's budget.

County Manager Ben Scott, with the approval of County Chairman Ronald Williams, buried the unbudgeted $279,100 in the consent agenda. There was no supporting info regarding the unbudgeted $279k and neither Sheriff Hunter, nor any of the County 5 volunteered any information.

It has been over two years since the Sheriff's Deputies, the folks that protect the County on the road, in the court house, or in the jail have gotten a raise.

Sheriff Hunter has admittedly taken good care of his top brass.

Percent Based Budgeting: A Flim-Flam and Probably Illegal

As the meeting wound down, your reporter asked the County 5 about its Percent Based Budgeting deal with Sheriff Hunter. The deal is directly between the Sheriff and the County.

After years of abuse and disrespect, most of the public stays away from meetings of the County 5. The Sheriff is in the shadows sitting against the back wall by the door. County Manager Ben Scott addresses the County 5 on Thursday night.

Your reporter began, addressing the homeless County 5, "As you can see, there are 5 people here tonight. Obviously you guys are not the most popular show in town."

Agreement between the County 5 and Sheriff Hunter. It is the only one of its kind in Florida.

He continued, "I've heard from a number of people that this thing [Percent Based Budgeting] is the best thing since refried beans... Yet this is so good -- this is the only county that's done it.... I would like to hear from the Sheriff. It certainly is good for the Sheriff. He can do his stuff and you guys do it in the hallways; in the back alleys; or where ever you do it. But other counties don't do it this way -- no other county in Florida. Maybe the Sheriff could tell us why this is so good and maybe he could share with us why other counties don't do it. And maybe you guys could tell us why it's so good and no other counties do it."

Long time Commissioner Ronald Williams gave an explanation (as spoken):

"We went through the history of every Sheriff in Columbia County. We researched what percentage of tax dollars that wasn't restricted that went to the Sheriff's Department. Here and about 39% -- just constantly..."

"Instead of going through the hassle of talking about, 'What the Sheriff goin' to get here? A piece here -- a piece there,' the Board along with our attorney and CPA thought it was within the best interest of everybody if that was the bench mark of what the Sheriff's usually [get] every year, why go through the hassle?"

"Thus far there have not been an opinion from Tallahassee that said the Sheriff Department and Board of County Commission can violate the Florida stature. We are tweeted it to make sure we complied with the Florida stature, but there have not been a ruling from the Attorney General that guides -unintelligible."

There is no record in the County minutes that former County Attorney Marlin Feagle or the County's outside auditor - financial consultant - budget advisor - CPA, Richard Powell ever commented on the legality of The 5 making the deal with the Sheriff.

Your reporter asked if the County had asked the Attorney General for an opinion.

County Manager Ben Scott answered, "No we have not asked the Attorney General for an opinion."

Chairman Williams jumped back in, "When I said 'General,' I just should have said Attorney. When our attorney, prior to Joel, was Marlin Feagle and Marlin did not have a problem with it. As a matter of fact, he helped draft input into that ordinance and we have an attorney here that have not told this board, 'Guys, you all in violation of the Florida Stature.' Until someone tells us that we are in violation, I think the Sheriff – 'Come up here Sheriff Hunter.'"

Elected County Attorney Joel Foreman told a different story in March 2015: Columbia County 5 & Sheriff Make History: Percent Based Budgeting or Flim-Flam 101

Sheriff Hunter Came Out of the Shadows

Sheriff Hunter Speaks:

 "We've not been told that this is illegal to conduct our budgeting this way. The opinions of one attorney vs. another, you know that's opinion. We've gone through the finance protocols to address this. We've insured that we've gone through on each one of the items -- referenced the Florida statute and Florida statute 30 is what governs the Sheriff as far as how we spend our money. I still have to turn in the budget to you guys on June 30... I do my year-end. It's still required to be turned in. Everything that is allocated to me is accounted for. There is no smoke and mirrors here. You see everything that is spent at the Sheriff's office. I think we've been very fiscally responsible to the board and to this community..."

"I have not been shown anything to me that says the way this budget process is being conducted is illegal.... I have several other sheriffs that are looking at it. We've had other County commissioners that have called... it is an interesting thing and no one likes change."

"What I'm most proud of is that we have a board here that is working with their local sheriff and there is a trust been born that we can have this kind of relationship. Have a contract to a relationship. I'm held accountable by you guys as far as when the money comes over. I send what we spend -- every bit of it is accountable on an annual basis. And I like it that our citizens don't have to see us going back and forth, because we all have a personality with us and whatnot... This way, allocate some money, and this is what you get, and then I budget it appropriately..."

"I just want to say thank you for the trust and the relationship that we do have."

Present Agreement Needs to be Rewritten

County Manager Ben Scott added, "Chairman, I'd like to have one comment. The Sheriff and I -- we're looking at the agreement. There have been some suggestions to tweak some of the language in the agreement. We believe that we are completely complying with Florida statute requirements. But it doesn't exactly say that in the agreement. So before the next budget year we will have a new agreement that's going to spell out -- here's how we're comply with this requirement -- here's what we're doing to comply with these different requirements -- and reference the statutes. We will reference the statutes."

Mr. Scott did not reveal who recommended that the agreement be rewritten.

Columbia County's newest member of The 5, Tim Murphy, closed the conversation (as spoken):

Real quick. A meeting I had to go to in Gainesville last month just to kind of reinerate on what they were talking about the 39%. They kinda' ganged up on I. There's a bunch of counties throughout the state of Florida watching. These -unintelligible- so to speak and there's a lot of talk out there. Of course they were askin' questions that I couldn't answer. But that ah - we got a lot of attention and I think it's gonna' be a positive thing."

Mr. Murphy didn't explain where he was or what were the questions he couldn't answer.

After the Meeting

After the meeting Ralph Kitchens of Columbia County said, "I thought for sure somebody on the Board was going to bring up getting an Attorney General's Opinion."

This notion was seconded by County Attorney Foreman, who said, "I had my pen and pad ready. I thought they were going to ask."


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

Asking for an Attorney General's Opinion on the deal between the County Commission and the Sheriff would be an opinion that would be anticipated across Florida. The County Attorney is ready to ask for one.

The present agreement is based on nothing substantial, but keeps Columbia County's legendary infamous good ole' boys and the Sheriff locked in a love embrace in the County's back alleys while the County deputies are just ignored by the both of them.

Sheriff Hunter: file photo

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

This work by the Columbia County Observer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 United States License.

Meeting Calendar
No need to be confused - Find links to agendas and where your participation is welcome.

Make a comment • click here •
All comments are displayed at the end of the article and are moderated.