Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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It's Budget Season in Columbia Cnty: Tonight - Lake City, then - the County 5, LSHA, CCSD, SVTA

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Tonight begins budget season in Columbia County. This is the time of year when the Florida statutes mandate that all municipal corporations: counties, cities, school districts, and special districts present their budgets for fiscal year (FY) 2018-2019, a year which begins on October 1, 2018 and ends on September 30, 2019. It is known as FY2019.

Lake City
Tentative Budget: $55,760,562

Tonight, Lake City will present its FY2019 budget for its first public hearing. This is new City Manager Joe Helfenberger's first budget since the retirement of former City Manager Wendell Johnson.

Mr. Helfenberger was left with many financial surprises, with more yet to come.

While Lake City residents pay their full tilt of County taxes, they also pay City taxes, the theory of which is that City residents pay for an elevated level of services. The City has its own police department, utility department, HR department, public works department, etc.

City residents, depending on what happens at the County 5, will also be paying for a new jail for 200 inmates, the Sheriff's Office, a County Manager and two Assistant County Managers, the public works department, etc.

It appears the most City residents don't get that and are rarely seen at meetings of Florida's Infamous County 5.

Up for approval tonight is the proposed millage rate of 4.9 mills, a 3.38% increase over last year's rate.

1 mill is equivalent to $1 in taxes per $1,000 in taxable value. 4.9 mills equals $4.90 cents per $1,000 of your assessment. If your City property was assessed at $100,000 your city tax assessment would be $490.

The City population is approximately 12,000.

This year's City budget weighs in at $55,760,562

The County 5
Tentative Budget: $164,944,375

This Thursday is the County's first budget hearing.

It is presently not clear how many budgets County Manager Ben Scott has prepared for the County 5, which this year has been a whirlpool of confusion.

County 5 Chairman Tim Murphy, who has trampled the non-interference provisions of the County Charter, has been the leader of the worst budget cycle in recent County history as he works over time to deliver to his boyhood chum, Sheriff Mark Hunter, a new County Jail for approximately 200 inmates.

The jail price, not counting financing, is hovering around $30 mil and if approved at the budget hearing will be a budget buster for years to come.

Chairman Murphy is not alone as some of the other 5 are working hard to deliver for County Sheriff Mark Hunter a new and unneeded jail, which according to Sheriff Hunter has not been written up by the state.

One version of The 5's budget plan is to raise property taxes by 14.4%.

After the County voodoo is filtered out, this tax hike is to build a jail for an average daily jail population of 200 that has been declining, with a pretrial population that has also been declining as well, and is, as of the latest figures available (May 2018), 51% of the jail's inmates.

The County population is approximately 70,000, which includes the City population.

The County FY2019 tentative budget on tap for Thursday night is $164,944,375.

On Tap

The dates and times for government and quasi governmental meetings affecting Columbia County and Lake City are available here.

Local budget hearings are as follows:

• Monday, September 10: Lake Shore Hospital Authority

• Tuesday, September 11: Columbia County School District. A search of the District website shows no easily located indication that the FY2019 budget is scheduled for its first public hearing, or provides a link to the budget for the County's largest employer and the provider of education for approximately 10,000 students.

• Monday, September 17: Suwannee Valley Transit Authority (SVTA). This is the third scheduling of the Suwannee Valley TA budget presentation. The Suwannee Valley TA is controlled by seven tri-county commissioners: two from each of Columbia and Hamilton Counties, and three from Suwannee County if the administrator is counted who is also a Suwannee County Commissioner.

North Florida's good ole' boy web of county commissioners is front and center at the SVTA as Suwannee County Commissioner Larry Sessions, also the TA administrator, has refused to follow Florida notice requirements, the Public Records Law, and just plain common sense.

While Columbia County/Lake City are the SVTA's largest users of the system, Commissioner Sessions has scheduled the SVTA's budget hearing to be at the same time as Lake City's final budget hearing.

Both Hamilton and Suwannee Counties do not have meetings that conflict with their County's business.

Only the Columbia County 5, representing the interests of Columbia County residents, doesn't care if the SVTA's business conflicts with Columbia County/Lake City Business.

Commissioner's Nash and Phillips are Columbia County's representatives on the SVTA board.

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