Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Confusion Regarding Sheriff's Dream Detention Center: The 5 Approves a 10% Tax Hike, For Now

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Last Thursday's afternoon session of the County 5's budget workshop played to an empty house with, according to the Clerk, no members of the public present. The 5 didn't miss its chance: it authorized County Manager Ben Scott to ask for a 10% millage rate increase. The reason: to finance Sheriff Hunter's new dream Detention Center.

At 9 am Thursday morning, County 5 Chairman Ronald Williams opened the meeting, "Good morning everybody. I want to call our workshop meeting to order. This is a special meeting workshop and it is a meeting. We can propose legislation to be voted on."

The County Charter: Crystal Clear
'No voting allowed'

The County Charter restricts the County 5. The Charter is crystal clear:

 "Action by the Board of County Commissioners at a special meeting shall be limited to the purpose for which the special meeting was called."

Purpose of the Workshop: Budget Preparation

The meeting agenda was clear. In simple words, under the heading, "2017-2018 Budget Preparation," it states the topics to be discussed: "Fire Department, Budget Process, Detention Center Repair/Replacement, Stormwater Mitigation, Strategic Planning, etc."

Nowhere in the one page agenda is any mention of a vote on a tax increase, or a vote on anything else.

The Sheriff's Jail: $25 mil, $28 mil, who knows?

During the last meeting when the jail came up, your reporter questioned the necessity of looking for a new architectural design firm for the proposed jail and mentioned that Florida law required that a request for architectural services be put in the market place.

On Thursday, Chairman Williams announced that County Attorney Joel Foreman was going to do some research on whether or not the County needed to go out looking for an architectural firm to design the jail.

Mr. Foreman said the County needed to solicit an architect.

Commissioner Nash said he wanted to look at the jail options, followed by a lot of talk about plans and capacity. There was general confusion.

Sheriff Hunter joined the discussion and mentioned that everyone needed to compare "apples to apples," although it wasn't clear what the apples were and the bed count at the proposed new facility jumped around from 384 to 448 to 512.

Commissioner Nash told The 5, "You have to take the next step and the next step is to get some hard numbers."

There was a lot of crosstalk, during which time Commissioner Williams asked the Clerk, "Did I pass that motion Madame Clerk?"

Through the fog of talk Commissioner Nash said, "I don't think we voted on it."

Commissioner Williams said, "We did not? OK."

County Manager Scott kept talking about jail capacity, a big point of confusion.

Commissioner Williams jumped in, "OK guys. We have a motion on the floor to advertise for a RFQ. (Request for Qualifications (for the architectural design firm)).

The motion passed unanimously, although nobody made the motion.

Next:  Raising Taxes - More Confusion

This graphic is taken from the 175 page county PowerPoint. Everybody was ready for the proposed tax increase except the public. Tax increases were not on the one page agenda.

County Manager Scott explained raising the taxes (millage), "If you set the millage at 8.87, that's what we would need in order to generate the $2 mil for debt service which would pay for $25 mil over 15 years.

Commissioner Nash added, "You can always adjust the length of the loan to make that number fit the loan... and stuff like that."

Commissioner Nash asked, "When would you set the millage rate?"

Commissioner Williams said, "All right, I've got a motion."

Commissioner Nash said, "I'll make a motion."

Commissioner Williams said, "I thought you said, 'I'll set the millage rate.'"

Commissioner Nash said, "If we get the information, we can leave the millage the way it is and do it next year, right?"

Without any members of the public present, the County 5 passed a motion authorizing the County Manager to set the millage rate at an effective 10% increase.

Commissioner Rusty DePratter voted against the motion, although he didn't give any reason why during the entire conversation.

The County 5 can roll back the millage rate during the budget process, as well as revisiting the need for the Sheriff's new dream Detention Center.


The County 5, through its rudeness to the public and throttling public participation, has succeeded in chasing the public away from its meetings.

In the modern age, its lack of any kind of parliamentary rules for itself leaves it uncivilized and confused.

The Columbia County 5: the legend continues.

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