Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Ellisville Utility Project boondoggle
The saga continues

Columbia County, FL (posted December 17, 2009)

The county utility subcommittee meets
The homeless County Commission Utility Subcommittee met once again, freeloading at the hospital authority. The committee members and guests listen to Attorney Brian Armstrong (far right) of Neighbors, Nickerson & Giblin explain that the county utility may compete with the city utility in certain areas.

The saga of the Columbia County – Ellisville Utility Project continued at the December 10th Utility Sub-Committee meeting, in what continues to be the greatest "good ole boy" boondoggle and waste of public funds in the history of Columbia County.

This month's meeting was attended by a full house of those on the clock and conversation that defied both the imagination and common sense. By the conclusion of the meeting, the pockets of the working families of Columbia County were noticeably lighter.

Notable for their attendance were three hourly attorneys and three hourly engineers. A conservative estimate for their cumulative hour and a half of work and travel is approximately $1,500 -- a nice Holiday gift, courtesy of the taxpayers.

Marlin Feagle (left) and Bill Whitley
County Attorney, Marlin Feagle (left) and conflict counsel Bill Whitley were on the clock.

Having noticed conflict counsel Bill Whitley at the table, your reporter asked if County Attorney Marlin Feagle had a conflict.

Mr. Feagle explained that he declared a conflict "on issues directly involving Ellisville," because of the property ownership he has "down there.”

Your reporter asked, "What property is that? Does anybody know and where is this conflict filed?"

Subcommittee Chairman/Jack Berry protégé, Jody DuPree shot back, "Deal with that somewhere else. Move to the next question ... Not here -- not now. We’ve already dealt with this at a board meetin."

An examination of the published County Commission Board minutes reveals no such conversation, which may be the reason why Mr. Feagle has been attending and billing the county for all the Ellisville utility meetings he attends.

Engineers Mark Neihaus (left) and John Colson
Utility consulting engineer, Mark Neihaus and outside/inside county engineer John Colson (right) were on the clock.

Long time "good ole boy" and county outside/inside engineer, John Colson, was another benefactor of the taxpayers' largess. Mr. Colson, who has steadfastly and repeatedly refused to document his time, insulting those who asked about it, hit pay dirt when he sat through a meeting that was primarily spent discussing ordinances and staffing and spoke for a minute and a half about different kinds of hay. Cost to the taxpayer -- $172.50.

Since 2006, the County has subverted every opportunity it had to either join with the Lake City Regional Utility or allow Lake City to take care of the utility issues in Ellisville.

Columbia County's total inexperience, stubbornness, mismanagement and complete inability to ever admit a mistake will cost all tax payers dearly for years to come.

In March of 2007, the County approved a drinking water plan that stated that the cost of labor to operate a water system in Ellisville would be $15,600 a year. At that time the County also estimated usage at 40,000 gallons per day. Their most recent estimate is 30,000 GPD.

In April of 2007, when your reporter asked the Board if the labor rate was realistic, County Manager, Dale Williams, said the rate was a contractual rate and the plan was to offer the contract to Lake City for the operation of the Ellisville Utility and "there is not enough work for a full time employee."

Recently, Lake City has repeatedly refused to get involved in the Ellisville Utility Project Boondoggle.

At last week's December 10th meeting, Com DuPree suddenly determined the County needed a Utility Director and to make sure he wasn't misunderstood he said, "Let me make sure that I’m clear about what it is I’m expectin. I’m not talkin about a sewer plant operator and I’m not talkin about a water plant operator. I’m talkin about a Utilities Director.

No one on the County Utility Sub Committee had a clue about what a Utility Director would cost.

County Manager Dale Williams, who has overseen the Ellisville Utility Project for seven years, told the Committee:County Manager Dale Williams

In my conversations with Com DuPree, we of course originally were going to privatize all aspects of this utility, including the meter reading... all nine yards.  The Commissioner is of the opinion that this utility is going to be more involved than what maybe we realized. He believes that it will justify having a full time person ...

We’ve already programmed in a certain amount of dollars to cover potentially all of these needs. Now, would that be the same dollar value that a person who might hire would need? I don’t know, because I have no idea what kind of salary this type of position would demand.

The point is you’ve already got money built into your cost Performa that you are going to use -- gonna want to use to pay if you’ve contracted somebody.

My comment was -- well -- if we hire a person and we find out it’s really not a full time commitment to the utility, that we somehow use this person in another area of work. But, you know, there is a school of thought out there -- that most people think that this is going to command more time than what maybe we realized. I really don’t know.

Initially, there is no doubt ... once you get it up and running, you know the initial connections are made, etc. -- Hopefully it will grow and hopefully there will be some demand for that. You’ve already got a good chunk of it. It’s not enough -- budgeted.

Com Bailey asked the County Manager, "Would it be too much to ask to get some figures together and to present to the board Thursday night? [December 17th.]

County Manager Williams answered, "It’s not too much for me."

Com Bailey:  I mean -- forty thousand -- sixty thousand -- I don’t have a clue.

County Manager Williams:  I don’t either.

Chairman DuPree:    Well, I don’t either...

The Observer asked:  My question is for the County Manager and you [Com DuPree]. Just a few minutes ago, you said that you realized that this was a little more than you thought it was initially. And I just heard Mr. DuPree say that you have been working on this for the past seven years. When did you realize that it was a little more?

Commissioner Jody DuPreeCom DuPree's remarks concluded the meeting:

I don’t think that is what he said. What he said was that some of us think that it’s a little more than what -- I think it might be more than him. I don’t think he said it was a little more than he thought it was -- What he said was -- Was I think it’s a little bit more that what he may think it is. 

With millions spent and millions more to go, the saga of the Ellisville Utility Project boondogle continues, now under the leadership of Jody DuPree.


City/County utility stories
Ellisville Utility Sidebar - dateline 11/20/09
City Manager Wendell Johnson takes center stage at city/county sit-down 11/20/09
The Ellisville Utility Project
Money down the drain
After squandering millions
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