Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Still Floundering Around
Ellisville Utility Boondoggle Continues

By Stew Lilker

This is the well head in the well field at Ellisville. It is right next to the largest feed lot within hundreds of miles.

The Ellisville Utility Boondoggle continued rolling along at Tuesday morning's Columbia County utility committee meeting as the county prepared to pick the pockets of all Columbia County residents to pay for its own big dig. The brazenness of the shameless Columbia County good old boy out of control governance harked back to the bygone era of Boss Tweed, when Columbia County Manager Dale Williams chose county financial consultant and inside-outside auditor, Richard Powell, to help design the final utility rates.

The meeting began with outside contract engineer, Chad Williams going over the main and feeder lines of the water utility. All the easements have not been obtained; it was unclear where all the water lines were going and the mandatory equipment to chlorinate the water was on backorder.

Outside engineer and "good old boy" John Colson, who is referred to by some as the "County Engineer," when referring to easements told the committee, " All the legal descriptions and maps have been provided. I don’t know exactly what the status of them are."

Waste water is as bungled-up as the drinking water

After years of confusion, Board Chairman, Ronald Williams announced to the world, "We in the utility business."

In March of 2007, the County Commission approved and adopted a Wastewater Facilities Plan and Capital Financing Plan addressing the implementation of the wastewater system for Ellisville. This project was approved by the state and scheduled to be completed in November of 2008.

Time passed. The Florida Department of Environmental Protection permitted the plant in May 2009.  The County decided not to build the plant. The county put the project out to bid and in September of 2009 accepted all the bids.

The county ultimately bought a used package plant, which at one time was claimed to be on its last legs. In 2007, the county's consultants, in a report approved by the county and filed with the state, said this about the treatment plant: "DEP monthly operating reports indicate that the system has failed a number of times."

On Tuesday morning County Manager (CM) Dale Williams explained the package plant this way, " It is a very small package plant; it’s the same one that’s been in existence for a number of years. We are being told that it has some additional useful life in it. The intent is to maximize that life."

According to CM Williams the plant is being upgraded.

Easements are also an issue on the waste water side with the county flying by the seat of its pants because of a lack of adequate county

Com DuPree was put in charge by Com Ron Williams.


Engineer Colson: We have two outstanding easements before we can do any pumping.

Engineer Chad Williams: Once we put our sewer system on line and we try and tie all these customers in, there are additional easements on the sewer side that I don’t believe have been addressed yet to go across the north side of the interstate. We will just have to address that later.

Com Bailey turns against expanding the utility

Committee Chairman DuPree explained the four options for funding the utility and said the utility should pay for itself. He came up with three, but a few minutes later said his fourth option was paying for the utility with county reserves and that was not acceptable to him.

Commissioner Stephen Bailey turned against expanding the utility. He said, "I am not interested to see any more lateral branches... We don’t have a product to sell yet... We gettin the cart before the horse... The original intent of Ellisville back in the 90’s when it was started was for the commercial exchange."

Com DuPree: "Let me make sure that I’m clear. We’re gonna spend $4,000,000 in Ellisville puttin in utilities and we’re gonna have ninety eight customers?"

Com Bailey:  "That is my intent."

Com DuPree:  "I don’t see how we can do that."

"We don’t know exactly the direction we’re goin."

Public Works Director, Kevin Kirby, whose department is responsible for the county's thousands of miles of roads was on target when he said, " We don’t know exactly the direction we’re goin with utilities."

The utility committee then approved the off budget purchase of $97,000 dollars of additional equipment and approved the building of a $255,000 parts storage building for the utilities, which will also act as a public works satellite facility. The financing of neither was clear. The building is to be built in the spray field.

Committee Chairman, Commissioner Jody DuPree explained that the county was utilizing public works to keep the cost down adding, " The hope is that the utility is always growing in Ellisville."

It was obvious from the discussion that the Public Works Department, already stretched thin, was being stretched thinner by its responsibilities in Ellisville.

No figures were available for the number of public works man and equipment hours expended at Ellisville and how that money is being accounted for.

Com DuPree told County Manager (CM) Dale Williams that it may cost $750,000 to buy additional equipment for public works utility use.

Mr. Kirby got right to it, “That won’t touch it... if you want a full fledged utility... I’ve got some rough numbers worked up that I just don’t think we’re ready for yet.”

CM Williams said, "In a utility this size there is no economy of scale? What was it -- 98 residential customers -- 20 something commercial customers?" "You are not going to get to an economy of scale to justify that kind of expenditure."

CM Williams summed up his budgeting philosophy this way, " Budgeting to a great extent is guess work."

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On May17, 2010 Terry McGee of Lake City wrote:

       We need to have a drive to vote all the county commissioners out the next election.
     I can remember when Dupree was running around in diapers without a clue on anything and I don't see any improvement after all these years.
     It seems all of the commissioners have conflicts of interest on many things, including raising taxes and forced charges especially when your grand fathered in.
     You may use my full name, as I don't lend much credit to anything anonymous or semi anonymous.Terry McGee

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