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Columbia County Observer

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EDAB's Charlie Keith: Wants Lake City to Commit to Increasing Its Public Works Department

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Wednesday's Economic Development Advisory Board (EDAB) meeting came on the heels of Monday's City Utility Committee meeting, a committee that hadn't met for over a year. None of the EDAB members, other than Chairman Murphy, attend the Utility meeting. Wednesday morning, EDAB member Charlie Keith shared his ideas regarding City/County utility relations and assessments.

Joe Helfenberger (center), the City's new city manager, is contracted to begin on August 1. Monday evening during the City's first Utility Committee meeting in over a year, he was getting a head start.

As reported earlier, Charlie Keith is the EDAB's newest member. He is also a member of the Suwannee River Water Management District Board. Both appointments are political appointments.

The City Utility Commitment

During Monday's Utility meeting, Utility Director Paul Dyal was looking to build bridges.

When the morning's conversation gravitated to County utility issues, Mr. Keith was front and center. He asked, "Has the City indicated any commitment to increase their public works department?"

Mr. Keith, who has demonstrated distaste for Florida's Sunshine Law in the past, continued, however, it was almost like he was trying not to be able to be understood from across the room.

He said [as understood], "If they [the City] don't increase public works, the only thing they got is grant money. They're not able to maintain what they got, not -unintelligible- to get it all the new."

Long time and recently reappointed EDAB member Stephen Douglas said the City added another department (Stormwater assessment) "and kinda split everything up."

Charlie Keith on Assessments
He got it backwards, nobody knew

Mr. Keith followed up [as spoken], "But it's an assessment. It's general fund money. It's not dedicated. If you have a tax it could be dedicated to a specific item. You present for voting purposes an assessment. That's a general fund money. Does it necessarily get spent on public works? No. That's why assessments are so popular with local governments today."

While it was not clear what Mr. Keith was talking about, Florida law is clear and specific when it comes to the difference between taxes and special assessments.

The FL Uniform Accounting System Manual explains:

In implementing... special assessments, a local government's goal is to create an assessment or fee that avoids classification as a tax by the courts. If an assessment or fee does not meet the case law requirements and is classified as a tax, then the local government must have general law authorization for its imposition.

... As established in Florida case law, two requirements exist for the imposition of a valid special assessment. First, the property assessed must derive a special benefit from the improvement or service provided; and second, the assessment must be fairly and reasonably apportioned among the properties that receive the special benefit.

Charlie Keith: "The City Can't Maintain What it Has"

Mr. Keith continued [as spoken], "The problem is they don't have enough public works to maintain what they have. Even in storm water, you know you get overgrown areas, ditches and things like that, that just need to be cleaned up. They can't maintain that, let alone get involved with new construction or infrastructure. Infrastructure is critical for what we want to do in Columbia County. The City is way behind on that. We can work all we want to on grants and stuff. It's still not going to be enough money to better the infrastructure we need. The City has to make the commitment."

Chairman Murphy responded, "That's a good point... Charlie, you're right. We don't have a rep here from the City, but that's kinda' irrelevant... That would be a good point of discussion when we officially meet the new city manager."

Long time County Commissioner Ronald Williams makes a point during Monday's City Utility meeting as County Chairman Murphy (left) and Econ. Dev. Dir. Glenn Hunter (foreground) listen.

Mr. Murphy added, commenting on Monday's City Utility Committee meeting, in which Mr. Murphy and most of the County brass attended, "It was one good move headed in the right direction."

Keeping the Pressure On

Stephen Douglas Wants More Committees "We need to keep the pressure on," he said.

Stephen Douglas recommended another committee, "an EDAB (Economic Development Advisory Board) subcommittee to go to meetings."

Mr. Douglas told the EDAB, "We just have to keep the pressure on, have our presence known."

Mr. Murphy agreed, "That's right."

Mr. Keith responded. His first set of remarks was completely unintelligible.

Charlie Keith
"Yeah, yeah, yeah, ok, blah, blah, blah -- we need commitment"

"We've got to get the word out. Columbia County needs to take the lead."

Mr. Keith continued [as spoken], "Here is another suggestion you might consider. Committee -unintelligible- We got to get the word out - the information out. I might suggest that Columbia County Commission take the initiative of the project. We try to be good neighbors and get people to work together. Somebody's got to lead, or it doesn't happen. I suggest that we take the lead and bringing the information at their meetings, newspaper, what needs to happen and get commitments from the City that they're going to increase their public works. There gonna' to get called up, because we're -unintelligible- future growth. And most municipalities use it to catch up. Where they've used money for somethin' else. They use the grant. It should be designed to let you keep up with the growth that's coming to the community.

We need this information out to the people. They don't know what's going on.

We need all the participants to come to the table. Somebody's got to lead. If you just go up there as a friend - another organization -- yeah, yeah, yeah, ok, blah, blah, blah -- we need commitment."

Mr. Murphy responded, "Charlie, you hit the nail on the head," adding that if the County is going to get the City grants to build utilities, the City needs to commit to owning and operating them.

Mr. Keith followed up, "How are you planning to do that? How are you going to get to the point that you can handle that? I suggest that Columbia County take the lead."

Mr. Murphy responded, "That's a good point."


After discussing grants, the County's Economic Development Director Glenn Hunter told the Board, "Charlie, you're absolutely right. This is just a precursor of a lot of events and happenings that are gonna' take place. It's gonna' have a lot of working parts and I hadn't thought about maintaining the systems. I don't think anybody's thought about that."

Comments  (to add a comment go here) 

Posted on July 17, 2018, a Lake City business employee wrote:

What are they talking about? So much of the dialogue is “unintelligible”. Yes , we need storm water management, and I think it should be assessed to the businesses paving over Lake City.

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