Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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County 5 Took Its Road Show to Dist. I to Promote the New Hunter Hilton (Jail) & Extort New Taxes

Part I

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – On Tuesday evening, June 19, 2018, three members of the County 5, along with Sheriff Hunter, the County Manager, and the Director of Public Works met at the Winfield Community Center for a "dog and pony" show to promote the Hunter Hilton, a $30 million plus new County jail, along with a county wide infrastructure sales tax, which will make Columbia County one of the highest taxed counties in the state. About 30 residents came out for the show. The refrain after the meeting was "Columbia County's good ole' boys don’t like questions."

The aim of the County 5 is to take the show on the road to each of the five districts to promote the new sales tax, which must be approved by the public, and explain how they are not extorting the public into voting for it, after telling them that if it doesn't pass, they are going to raise property taxes.

You can pay now, or you can pay later.

In Part I we will be analyzing the introductory remarks by 36 year veteran District I commissioner, Ronald Williams, and related issues.

All Commissioner Williams' remarks are as spoken.

Dist. I Commissioner Ronald Williams addresses the 30 folks attending what the County billed as a town hall meeting.

Com. Williams, wearing his trademark "Blazing Saddles" cowboy boots and hat, began by telling the public, "The Board of County Commissioners have to go to the annual conference. We have to take our continuing education courses -- our ethics courses -- and several things that we take, by law we have to have."

Com. Williams' statement is mostly false.

It is true that the Florida Association of Counties (FAC) is having its annual conference at the Hyatt Regency in Orlando on June 26. None of The 5 "have to go." The meeting is voluntary and financed by the County's taxpayers, who should not expect a financial accounting of the final cost of the junket. It is never given.

"Our ethics courses" while given at the conference, can be taken online for $79.

Purpose of the Town Hall Meeting: Bait & Switch

Com. Williams explained the purpose of the evening's meeting, "The purpose of this meeting is to do our best to inform the constituents of Columbia County about the needs of the County when it comes to roads.

This is "Bait & Switch." The real purpose of the meeting was to convince the public that the county jail is falling down, that it can't be renovated, and that the only way to pay for it is to implement the new Charter County Infrastructure Sales Tax to pay for the County's roads, thus enabling The 5 to take road money already in the bank and use it to pay for the new Hunter Hilton, the proposed $30mil plus county jail.

Only charter counties can institute an infrastructure sales tax. The rate can be up to a maximum of 1%.

Wrong Again

Com. Williams told the gathering, "Columbia County is the smallest charter county in the state of Florida." He also said there were 19 charter counties in Florida.

This is 100% wrong.

Wakulla is the smallest charter county, with a population which is less than half of Columbia County. There are 20 charter counties.

Com. Williams continued, "We have several members here that sets on the charter review committee that goes through it every year and makes sure that - unintelligible - abidin' by the charter and if any changes need to be done that review board does it."

The only member of the Charter Review Commission, not committee, in attendance was the District I Williams appointee, Ozell Graham.

The Charter Review Commission meets every 8 years, not every year, at which time it recommends changes to the charter, which can be recommended by the public as well as the Commission.

Infrastructure Tax: "it will mention the jail, also."

The County 5, working to finance the Hunter Hilton, has not done any studies showing how raising the County sales tax to one of the highest in Florida will impact local businesses, some of which have been operating in the County for decades.

Com. Williams continued, "The infrastructure tax will raise somewhere around $7.6 mil. Anytime you might read or hear mention the infrastructure tax, it will mention the jail, also."

Next: The Bait & Switch.

Commissioner Williams said there is about $3mil dollars of unrestricted funds in the public works department (the department that takes care of the roads). "Unrestricted means we, the Board of County Commissioners, can use that money for what we see best to use it for."

While the County 5 can move money here and there, they approved the $3mil for roads. This is a trick many politicians use: collect money - allocate for a specific purpose - then mystically change their minds and spend it somewhere else.

The Administrative Complex Homeless County 5 Kibosh
The First Bait & Switch for the Hunter Hilton (jail)

Earlier this year, the Homeless County 5 transferred $8mil plus other costs from a County loan allocated to finally build a forever needed administrative complex, to the Hunter Hilton Jail construction fund.

The 5 paid an architect $22,000 to do a study which showed that the best place to build the complex was in downtown Lake City. This would have aided the downtown revitalization and added approximately 300 parking places in the downtown area.

The County 5 could have obtained the property for almost nothing.

Commissioner Bucky Nash, way off the radar, during a County budget workshop, attended by the County's mainstream print media, tried to transfer the money. Commissioner Nash changed his mind after your reporter (who is also a County resident) advised them to tread lightly or they would be sued for improper actions regarding the money transfer.

Mr. Nash changed his mind and an $8mil budget transfer to the Hunter Hilton was performed at the next meeting.

Columbia County's mainstream print media editor, Robert Bridges, recently reminded it readers that they are the only game in town that "will never lie to you by act, omission, or innuendo. Nor will we insult your intelligence."

Editor Bridges continued, "Don't count on anybody else in this market to make that claim and mean it."

The Lake City Reporter, the paper that will "never insult your intelligence by omission," never reported the story of the $8mil demise of the administrative complex and the switching of the money into the Hunter Hilton Jail Fund.

Pulling Out Road Reserves to Pay for the Jail

Com. Williams said, "If the infrastructure tax passes, we can pull that $3mil out; supplant it with infrastructure [tax] money. We can take that $3 million dollars and we can pay for the jail without having to raise ad valorem taxes [property taxes]. We can take care of our roads, without having to raise gas tax."

Gas tax is the vehicle that is used to pay for roads. It has been touted for years by The 5 as the fair way to pay for road construction. "Those that use the roads should pay for them" is the refrain that The 5 has used for years."

They have had a change of heart.


If the infrastructure sales tax is approved by the voters, it will give Columbia County the highest Charter County sales tax rate in the state: not good for business or the reputation of Columbia County, which will now be only 3/4% below the sales tax in New York City.

Part II coming this weekend: The rest of the meeting: public works; the county manager; and of course the Sheriff make their presentations and answer questions.

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