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Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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LSHA

LSHA: Sitting on a Cash Stash of Millions, Gov's Bd Unfamiliar With Expenditures Lowers Tax Rate

Richard Powell read the LSHA budget

More LSHA stories are here.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – The Governor's Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board wasted no time last night lowering the proposed tax rate from 1.5 mils to .962. Reports in the local mainstream print media that the Board would adopt the 1.5 millage rate were wrong.

Background

The Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board is composed of a board appointed by the governor. This was not always so.

In 1947, the Legislature enacted legislation which "Authorized the Board of County Commissioners...to make appropriations, donations and payments, not exceeding $5,000 per year to the Lake Shore Hospital, a municipal hospital owned and operated by the City of Lake City..."

In 2005, 68 years later, after many legislative incarnations and changes of ownership of the Lake Shore Hospital, the legislature did what it does, it passed another piece of legislation, 2005-315 Florida Act, which totally rewrote all previous Lake Shore Hospital Authority legislation. That act is at the pdf logo (annotations by the Observer).

The first duty of the governing board (Section 6, pg. 3) is "control of expenditures."

That is what financial planning, budget hearings and budgets are all about.

Real Time

According to a Sunday report in the local mainstream print media and local version of Pravda, the Governor's Lake Shore Hospital Authority Board didn't have time to meet to discuss the proposed LSHA tax rate.

The report claimed that Authority Manager Dale Williams, the former 30 plus year Columbia County County Manager, said that the Governor's Board will not be dropping back the tax rate until the final budget hearing on September 17.

According to the report, Authority Manager Williams told them, "The board only meets once per month... they really didn't have a chance to sit down and talk about that [the budget], so they're really protecting their options until they know for sure."

For the past few meetings, the Board has had extensive conversations about Authority finances. Any claim that it didn't have a chance to "sit down and talk" about Authority finances is not true.

LSHA Manager Dale WilliamsBefore the budget hearing last night, your reporter asked Manager Williams about the report in the paper.

He said, "I have not read it," adding, "I expect that the Board will roll back the rate tonight."

Your reporter followed up, "That's not what the paper said."

Manager Williams smiled and said, "I'm not responsible for what they write."

Rolling Back the Rate – Fast


Millage rates and important budget lines, including cash on hand (beginning cash).

Chairman Beil asked Richard Powell, the Authority's forever accountant-financial advisor-auditor-external auditor (yes – all on person) to give an overview of the budget.

Mr. Powell gave his usual yearly rapid fire impossible to follow useless budget overview. There was one housekeeping question by Board member Thompson.

Then, before anybody else had a chance to say anything, before Chairman Beil had a chance to open the public hearing for comments, Board member Jay Swisher, a rumored (not really a rumor anymore) candidate for Clerk of the Courts, made a motion to lower the tax rate from 1.5 mils to .962. Stephen Douglas seconded the motion.

Chairman Beil Opened the Hearing

Dr. Mark ThompsonBoard member Dr. Mark Thompson was the only Board member to ask a question.

Citizen Barbara Lemley said, "The same thing happens every year...How can you know where you stand if you really don't know what you spent in the prior year?"

Chairman Beil said, "Obviously, Dale [Williams] and Mr. Powell are available at all times."

Ms. Lemley followed up, "But there is nothing here for the general public to see."

Mr. Beil said, "Last year's audit is on the website which has all the expenditures as well."

A look at the audit clearly shows it doesn't.

Ms. Lemley responded, "You can't even see the old minutes right now."

Ms. Lemley asked, "How much was spent on Board training?"

Mr. Beil: "I don't have that in front of me right now."

Barbara LemleyMs. Lemley then directed the question to Richard Powell, the accountant-financial advisor-auditor-external auditor.

Mr. Powell responded, "I don't have that detail."

It is not clear why Mr. Powell doesn’t show up with a laptop with that information readily available. He came to this meeting to present the budget.

Ms. Lemley followed up by asking about the $15,000 public education line, "Was any of that money spent?"

Chairman Beil: "I don't have it with me."

Ms. Lemley said that these things need to be addressed.

Ms. Lemley asked if CHS (Community Health Systems), the lessee of the hospital, was paying rent for the office space in the Authority Hdq.

The answer was they are not.

Citizen Sandra Buck-Camp told the Board, "It's nice to have comparisons of categories and how much [was spent]."I find it very disconcerting not to be able to compare one year to another, preferably the last four or five years."

Chairman Beil Gives His Take on the Budget

Brandon Beil: LSHA chariman
Board Chairman Brandon Beil listened to  public comments, answered questions and allowed other board member to respond.

Your reporter, also a citizen of Columbia County, followed the speakers and asked why there was nothing about prior budgets and expenditures in the documents prepared and provided to the public. He reminded the Board members that their primary responsibility to the public is fiduciary.

Your reporter asked how the Board could approve a budget without knowing how much was spent in the preceding or current year.

Mr. Beil said, "The people that prepare this budget [Dale Williams and Richard Powell] I'm sure look at that. I don't think they just throw numbers together just to make a sheet full of numbers."

Mr. Beil continued, "I have faith that Mr. Powell and Mr. Williams go through and take the time to build a budget based off of previous years... It's public record for anybody that would like to get the information."

Your reporter followed up, "That's not the point. Not one of you knows one thing that was spent here."

Jay Swisher:  LSHA Board memeberJay Swisher disagreed, "I disagree with that, Stew."

Your reporter, "What do you know, Jay? Which one do you disagree with?"

Mr. Swisher answered, "I think Dale has all the answers for you right there in his hand."

In Mr. Williams' hand was the audit from last year which had only a few budget lines with legal and accounting being combined.

Your reporter, "You guys don't know now. You are approving the budget."

Mr. Swisher made his motion again and Mr. Douglas seconded it again.

The tax rate is lowered.

Epilogue

Former Authority Manager Jack Berry, before he was forced out (he resigned), not once during his tenure failed to hold some kind of budget workshop or presentation to set the proposed tax rate, which represents millions of dollars.

With the Authority sitting on over $12,000,000 in cash, next week at the final budget hearing the Governor's Board can lower the rate again, or eliminate it completely for this coming year.

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