Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County 5 Gives Sheriff Hunter's Spending of Public Dollars Aftersight Instead of Oversight

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Last night at the County 5, Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter was given another free pass by Columbia County's County Board of County Commissioners, or as they have become affectionately known, the County 5, or just The 5.

County Manager Williams and Sheriff Hunter waiting for questions in 2015.


In early 2015, the County 5 entered into an Interlocal Agreement with Sheriff Hunter, basically guaranteeing him 39 percent of the unrestricted revenues of the County. The revenues are: ad valorem taxes; state revenue sharing; half cent sales tax; Amendment 1 ad valorem tax relief proceeds; small county surtax proceeds.

See: Columbia County 5 & Sheriff Make History. Percent Based Budgeting or Flim-Flam 101

This deal was hailed as the innovative model for the future for many counties in Florida and the purported "talk of the town" at many County Association meetings.

Three years later, this innovative deal, which allows the Sheriff to automatically stash away millions in reserves, lies on the scrap heap of good ideas. No other county in Florida has adopted the Columbia County model.

Last Night: Dipping Into the Reserves

On last night's County 5 agenda, Sheriff Hunter was looking for approval to dip into his reserves and pull out $130,000 for "electronic imaging."

Sheriff Hunter did not provide any contracts or bids for his imaging project.

The Sheriff announced that when the project is completed, the Sheriff's Office will have digitized many of the records in his Office.

Sheriff Hunter Came to the Microphone
Explained He Had Been Working on Project for Years

Sheriff Hunter came to microphone to request a budget transfer: "I'm here tonight to request the utilization of part of our reserves for some electronic imaging. It's a project the Sheriff's office has been working on for several years. We've come to a point where we need to finalize the imaging of our records, the criminal case files. This is something that we're going to be doing throughout the entire Sheriff's Office. We're in the process of negotiating a contract with a company to come in and actually do the scanning and then the destructive [destruction] of the records."

Your Reporter, also a Resident, Was Looking for the Contract

"Good evening. I looked at the back up material. All I saw was a request. I am looking at the oversight of this Board. Your primary responsibility is fiduciary... there is no budget. Where is the backup information that you guys are relying on to apply a $130,000 budget transfer?

The County Charter says you are supposed to provide backup information – my presumption is there is no backup information, so you guys are just approving $130k on the blind.

I understand it is scanning and digital imaging and everybody is in favor of that. That's the way the world is going. But you're supposed to have oversight of the money. One of you may look at this and say, "I know people where we could get this done for 2/3 the price." (abridged)

Commissioner DePratter:
The only commissioner to speak up

Commissioner DePratter asked, "Sheriff, would you provide us who you used and what the contract's for when you get it?"

Sheriff Hunter responded, "By all means... I'm not going to sign the contract until I have the approval of the Board. That's not just good business practices."

It wasn't clear why The 5 would authorize the approval of a $130k contract, paid for with Columbia County tax dollars, sight unseen. The 5 approve all contracts passing before them using County funds before they are signed. In this case, Sheriff Hunter chose not to bring the contract to the County 5.

The Sheriff continued, "When we finish this up, we may not use all the money and as you know that money is set aside for what we designated it for. That's part of the agreement. Whenever I come here and ask for the money, it is to be spent on that particular item."

There is nothing in the Interlocal agreement that states the Sheriff must spend the money for what he originally asks.

The agreement and Florida case law do not support this.

The agreement states: "Subject to reasonable procedures and restrictions negotiated by and accepted by the parties, the Sheriff may use said reserve account funds as the Sheriff shall, at his discretion, deem appropriate."

Earlier today, County Manager Ben Scott verified that there are no other agreements between the County and the Sheriff as it relates to the Interlocal.

There are no other restrictions, others than those imposed by Florida law.

If the Sheriff does not spend all the money in the mystery contract, he can spend the money any way he wants.

The Sheriff said, "Any moneys that are left over shall be returned to go back into the revenue fund, or the reserves of the Sheriff's special revenue fund."

On its face this is true. FL law requires that all year end monies not spent by the Sheriff must be returned to the County.

The Interlocal says the Sheriff gets all the money back:

 The Sheriff shall retain in the Sheriffs Fund, as reserves and in addition to the funding resources described above [all the tax money], all year end budget refunds and actual non-restricted revenues collected by the County in excess of budgeted amounts.

Sheriff Hunter wrapped up his time at the microphone by saying, "Mr. Lilker, there's no winning with you."


Later in the meeting, Commissioner Nash, discussing the workings of the County 5 said, "I feel we are in disarray."

Commissioner Nash may have hit the nail on the head with the evening's aftersight of Sheriff Hunter.

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