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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County 5 Abandoning Downtown Lake City: No Hearings, No Strategic Plan - Borrowing $10 Mil

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Since early in 2017, the County 5 has been scheming to move County Headquarters from downtown Lake City across the new Bascom Norris Bypass to an unpopulated industrial area north of and outside of the Lake City, City limits. The County Charter says, "The Board of County Commissioners shall meet at the county seat." The County seat is Lake City. This doesn't appear to bother the infamous Columbia County 5, who on Thursday night approved borrowing $10,000,000 in anticipation of the move.

Recent History

Beginning 2016, the County began talking about analyzing its space needs.

In April 2016, the County claimed it was paying $198,300 in rent for office space in the old Lake City Medical Center building (owned by the WSMDD Land Trust) plus "a pro-rata share of three spaces leased by Guardian Ad Litem."

In April 2017, the County added the rent amounts it left out of its prior year calculations and expanded its total rent figure to $280,643.

Almost $200k of the rent goes to the WSMDD Land Trust, one of whose members is the brother of the past County Manager, Dale Williams.

In 2003, the County could have purchased the WSMDD building, which was the old Lake City Medical Center building for a negotiable price of about $2.5 mil.

At that time, County Manager Williams, who had declared a conflict due to his brother's interest, said, "The Medical Center property is probably not the easiest property... to occupy."

The County has been renting it for years and has invested tens of thousands in renovations.

The County 5 Bouncing Ball

In April 2017, the County said it needed 40k sq ft for its administrative center and approximated the building cost at $150 a sq ft, or $6 mil.

That price was good for 30 days, when the County raised it to $160 sq ft and without explanation raised the sq ft to 46k sq. ft. The County up'd the cost to $7.36 mil.

Thursday Night: October 19, 2017

Thursday night had a full complement of Commissioners in attendance.

County Manager Ben Scott introduced number six on the agenda: "Administrative Building Financing - $8,000,000."

He did not introduce any drawings, plans, or architect's renderings. He didn't mention where The 5 was planning to locate the building.

A careful examination of the County minutes for the past year gives no indication of the cost or location of the planned new County administrative headquarters.

Mr. Scott told The 5, "As you'll recall during the budget workshop, we discussed the financing need of about $8 million for a new administrative complex." "We also discussed that in order to reduce the cost of borrowing we can do direct financing through a bank loan at a maximum of $10 million per year."

Mr. Scott did not mention the original suggested financing amount of $6 mil.

Mr. Scott continued, "What we're asking is to go ahead and prepare the financing for this facility - to borrow the $8 million that is currently budgeted and to take advantage of the current year limit."

Mr. Scott continued, "So what we are asking is for the board to authorize staff to secure a 15 year fixed rate bank loan with assistance from the from the County's financial advisor and bond counsel."

The "current year limit" is $10 mil. That's what it looked like The 5 was going for, not the $8 mil that they danced around. Not one of them said a word.

Where is the Building Located?

Your reporter asked, "You folks at this time haven't decided where you're going to put this new facility. Is that correct?"

Commissioner Williams answered, "Yes sir."

Your reporter followed up, "So you don't know where it is going to go? But I did see plans. It is going to be on the other side of town (across new bridge)? That's what you're planning?"

There was silence from The 5.

Your reporter, "These aren't trick questions. I just want to make sure we are all on the same page."

Finally Commissioner Nash answered, "Yes."

After mentioning that it was against the County Charter and against the law to move the County headquarters and meeting room out of the County seat your reporter asked The 5 to reconsider.

Your reporter, who is also a resident continued, "I'm asking you to consider the fact that you have set a place; you have drawn (site) plans and this is particularly for Mr. Foreman's benefit, that the Charter says where the meetings have to be and the other side of Bascom Morris is not in Lake City."

"I would ask the Board to consider that and would also ask the Board to consider working with the City to try and make some kind of municipal Center down here before Lake City turns into a garbage dump."

The County Manager said he and the County Attorney, Joel Foreman, have had discussions on that location. "Not only us, but the property appraiser's office as well is required to be in the County seat," he said.

Mr. Scott continued, "The County seat can be defined as the city limits or defined by you guys in an ordinance. Also you are two parcels away from the city limits."

Mr. Scott didn't have that right.

He asked County Attorney Foreman to correct him if he was wrong.

Mr. Foreman sat silent.

The law states (in plain English) that nothing shall be deemed to extend the boundaries of the municipality in which the county seat was previously located or annex to such municipality the territory added to the county seat. If the County moved to the other side of the Bascom Norris Bridge, the City would have to agree to annex those County parcels into the City.

Lately, relations between the City and the County are not that hot.

Epilogue

The approximately 12,000 residents of the City are also County Citizens. They pay all the County taxes. It is not clear if The 5 will ask those folks how they feel about the County moving out of the downtown.

The Columbia County 5: the legend continues

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

On October23, citizen49a of Lake City wrote:

I'm not sure why we have meetings where public officials don't reply when questioned.

They may as well just go make their deals in a back room somewhere, and then come out and announce them to their subjects.

You know, kind of like Kim Jung Un does over in North Korea.

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

 
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