Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Voodoo Economics: Financing the Hunter Hilton, Just Not Easy to Explain (Part II)

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – After another performance by veteran Commissioner Ronald Williams (Part I), in which he got almost everything wrong, County Manager Ben Scott attempted to explain how taking Transportation Trust Fund reserves, which have been used to pay for roads and then using those reserves for the new proposed jail, was not actually using that money to pay for the jail. Ozell Graham, a long time supporter and representative of Commissioner Williams, bought into the plan so enthusiastically that your reporter asked him if he was making an early room reservation. He said he was not.

Part II: County Manager Ben Scott Hawks the County 5 Plan

Mr. Scott told the gathering of 30 at the Winfield Community Center, "This jail is 30 years old... basically it's a 126 years old facility. The jail is just simply worn out."

Construction of the jail began in the mid-eighties, ultimately resulting in an investigation by FDLE. While the results of the investigation are interesting, not unexpectedly, no one was ever charged.

Columbia County Time

The cell door could have been repainted. It wasn't. The floor drain needed to be replaced because of age. That is called maintenance.

According to the County Jail Aging Plan, which seems to have been hatched from the minds of the architects, who stand to make millions on the design of the new jail, the famous federal penitentiary in Leavenworth, Kansas, which opened in 1903, is 483 years old.

Florida's famous Raiford State Prison in Bradford County was built in 1961, which in Columbia County time makes it 239 years old.

The County's reasoning that a jail day is not a real 8 hour day is from the time of the dinosaurs. There are businesses that are 24/7 business, such as Walmart, of which The 5 have clearly heard.

Falling Apart

Mr. Scott continued as he rolled through photos: "We have issues where the building is just falling apart. There are moisture issues. There are poles holding up the roof. [an engineered fix to a faulty design]... Shows cracking where the building is falling apart. Rust, mold and mildew throughout the facility. [not true] You really don't want your computers right next to your water line. Here's where IT is just stuffed in a closet space. We call these the rat's nests. Several floor drains have collapsed and had to be replaced in the current facility. It's all just falling apart. Building decay throughout the jail."

County Photos Intentionally Misleading

A water pipe was repaired behind the cabinet. The sheetrock was not fixed. The plaster at the bottom of the door frame fell off during the installation of a new door. The plaster was not fixed.

The pipe is one of many in an engineering fix in 1993 to repair the failing roof design. The crack in the wall by the fan does not mean the jail is falling down.

The rats nests of wires should have been cleaned up years ago. The panel was removed to show the mess. The top photo (left) and the photo (right) represent situations that could have been remedied, or at least tidied up.

Left: an upgraded control panel. Right: a control panel not upgraded.

Not installing a Lucite divider between the water pipes and the electronics is
irresponsible. The parts boxes could have been put on the other side of the room.

Bullet Proof Contract for Architect

Mr. Scott told the gathering 30, "We have an architect under contract."

Omitted was that after the review of the contract by County Attorney Joel Foreman, the County 5 agreed to a contract which could only be cancelled if the County found it couldn't afford the jail. The credit of Columbia County taxpayers guarantees that is an impossibility.

With the gathering 30 appearing not to be buying into the Hunter Hilton financing, Mr. Scott took another bite of the apple and explained:

"Let me make sure we get this right. $7.7mil will be the sales tax. Currently, the transportation trust is $2.7mil. This tax - this will pay for the jail and that's part of the $7.7mil."

This slide from the County PowerPoint was problematic, confusing and contradictory. The County is clearly transferring budgeted Transportation Trust Fund money to pay for the new jail.

The crowd was getting delirious.

With today's modern techniques, an engineer has opined that the moisture problems most likely can be fixed.

A resident asked, "How much is the overall cost for the jail?

Mr. Scott announced $28mil.

The cost of the jail has been all over the court and mainly explained by propaganda and questionable accountability.

It appears that the cost of Sheriff Hunter's new jail does not factor in the architect's fees ($2mil plus); the construction super's fees ($200k); the cost of the County employee who is supposed to be the County's eyes and ears on the project, but it is not clear if he has the experience in supervising projects this large, nor is impartial to overtures of the sheriff; and the interest on the loans.

Voting: for what?

With most of the gathering getting antsy, Mr. Scott took another stab at an explanation of the Charter County Infrastructure Surtax and how it would be used.

He said, "You said you heard this was for the jail. We don't want people to think that when you go in there and vote that you're voting for a road tax and then we use it to build a jail. We want to be straight forward and say look, 'We're gonna' supplant revenue that's already being used to maintain roads. We're gonna' take that out of roads, the road fund, and use it to pay for the jail, for 15 years.'"

Mr. Scott continued, "... The tax goes for roads. Now that does free up $2.7mil in unrestricted revenues (the Transportation Trust Fund, which is used for roads) that will be used for the jail debt service."

When Did the County Jail Fail Inspection?

The County and the Sheriff have been saying "The sky is falling" for some time.

Your reporter addressed Mr. Scott, "I have a question. When was the last time the jail failed a state inspection?"

Mr. Scott turned to Sheriff Hunter. There was a pause.

Sheriff Hunter answered, "Never."

Your reporter followed up, "It's never failed a state inspection?"

Sheriff Hunter: "No sir."

Your reporter asked, "Do you expect it to fail one soon?"

Sheriff Hunter responded, "Not if we can help it."

Your reporter: "Thank you."

In Part III, the Sheriff takes the microphone. Coming soon.

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

On June 26, 2018, a Columbia County resident wrote:

I would like to have 2 questions answered about the proposed taxes:

     1 - If enacted, when would the sales tax sunset or is it indefinite?

     2 - Higher taxes, sales or property taxes, can discourage work, savings, investments and affect the allocation of economic resources. Have they given much thought to the local impact?

I asked these questions recently but got no answers.
They owe the public these answers.


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