Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Letter to the Editor/Opinion

A Dismal Outlook for Columbia County Taxpayers

In reading the articles about the Sheriff's "dream" Detention Center and the proposed tax increases that the citizens of Columbia County are facing at the hands of our elected leaders, I feel compelled to, as Paul Harvey use to say, give you "the rest of the story." Not only are Columbia County tax payers looking at a 10% property "millage" TAX increase on our homes, but we also face an increase in the Fire Assessment and a 5% gas tax increase. If you live in Lake City, or have commercial property there, you are also facing storm water increases. All-in-all, pretty dismal outlook for County taxpayers.

Now, what is it all for?

The Sheriff wants a new jail. The cost is somewhere between $28 and $38 million dollars but no real figures, or designs have been put forth yet. He also wants a new Administration Building, Crime Lab Building, Maintenance Garage and he wants it built at his campus out on East US 90, a property which is predominantly wetlands. But hold on – the County has wetland mitigations credits that they purchased of $1.5 million, such a good deal, several years ago.


The man who sold the County the credits did not own the mineral rights, so those are pretty much useless and worthless. No one has been criminally charged and the County has yet to file a law suit against the seller to recover its money. Could it be because it's one of the former County Managers best friends? The Commission also wants a new County Office Building, cost and location unknown at this point.

Remember the Sheriff already gets 39% of the property taxes and is allowed to keep any excess revenues his office generates from serving papers, holding prisoners, etc. The Sheriff's contribution toward this = $0 dollars to his big building venture, nor has he given any real reason that he needs this new jail. You can make a lot of repairs and upgrades to the existing jail for substantially less than $28 to $38 million dollars.

 The Sheriff can't keep personnel now and of course blames the Commission, but as a Constitutional Office he can set his own salaries and spend his budget pretty much how he wants. The Sheriff just wants more stuff, not people.

Now to Economic Development and the County plan.

Ohhh! Right. There is not one. Just a hap hazard, hodge-podge, of projects bringing low wage jobs and now the County must hire another consultant to develop a Strategic Plan. But there is Plum Creek. Ohhh! That's right no infrastructure, no rail spur or other things attractive to business.

Develop a tax abatement program. Not Columbia County. We can simply wish businesses here. And remember the Sheriff. If the County gives a business a tax abatement incentive, well, now the Sheriff still wants his cut of 39% of what the taxes would have been without the abatement, even though the County is not receiving full tax value. The County must now make up the Sheriff's 39% on money the County never collected, such as deal.

A final thought on the County budget.

For 30 years Dale Williams [former County Manager] wrote budgets that balanced with revenues, i.e., expenses = tax income, knowing full well the budget was always underfunded. This was done with the anticipation of end of the year money to make up any shortfalls and to put money in reserve.

The other budget scam was to funds projects, i.e., the $30 million for the new County Jail some years ago, never do the project, then skim off the money for other projects, the old bait and switch.

Our longest serving Commissioner brags the County has not raised taxes since 1989, which for property taxes is true. But what about the "Communications Tax" instituted last year to fund the County Libraries?

As a Columbia County tax payer, I am done with the nonsense this County does. It's time we really look at what the County is doing.

A fed up Columbia County Tax Payer

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