Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Columbia County Commission News

Columbia County Florida: Big government economics are at home at the county commission

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Columbia County's long standing designation as a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern means that not only is it considered economically challenged by the state, but most recently Tropical Storm Debby has made it a victim of a natural disaster, which is an additional element of a Rural Area of Critical Economic Concern. With overtime and materials mounting into what must be many hundreds of thousands of dollars, last night the County Commission showed that nothing could stop its big government spending ways, as it seemed to go out of its way to spend tax payer dollars at breakneck speed.

$20,000 more: pie in the sky convention center

Sammy Dunn listens patiently as Commissioner Williams filibusters most of his time.

Sammy Dunn of Lake City asked the Commission not to spend $20,000 on a study to determine if a proposed convention center could generate enough revenue to be economically viable. Mr. Dunn didn't get a chance to say much more as County Commissioner Ronald Williams filibustered most of his time at the microphone.

The County recently spent $25,000 to have the same company build a model of a convention center. That project has not been completed and the model is nowhere to be seen.

In July of last year, County Manager Dale Williams told the Tourist Development Council that "the best management only provided 75 to 80% return on operating expenses" of the kind of facility the County had in mind.

Your reporter reminded the Commissioners that the County Manager also told the TDC that the only convention center in Florida that did not have to be subsidized was the one by Disney World in Orange County.

The Commission voted unanimously to spend the $20,000, anyway.

$14,499 more: postcards and $2,500 for the consultant

Next up was the chairman of the Charter Review Commission, Koby Adams. He wanted the County to spend $14,499 on post cards telling the voters what the handful of charter amendments said. $2500 of that was to go straight into the pocket of the County's handpicked consultant, Kurt Spitzer.

Charter Review Commission Chair, Koby Adams, makes his case for $14,499 of postcards.

Your reporter, who is also a county property owner and tax payer, told the commissioners that there was enough media in the county to advise the residents of the content of the four proposed charter amendments, basically a little more than four sentences, and that they would be better off spending the money for more productive endeavors, like donating the money to the school district so that it could teach the children in the county's failing schools how to read.

After Commissioner Ronald Williams was told that the post card would do nothing more than tell the residents the language of the four amendments (the four sentences), the Commissioners voted to spend the $14,499 without any further discussion.

$86,000 more: 10 years interest free to CMS Professional Staffing

Next up the Commissioners considered giving an $86,000 ten year zero interest loan to CMS Professional Staffing "to assist in their expansion/relocation efforts." Commissioner Ronald Williams, in a letter to the Board as chairman of the Economic Development Advisory Board stated: "This loan shall be used by CMS to facilitate and expedite local expansion as they acquire and improve new facilities and grow their business here in Columbia County."

Economic Development Committee Attorney, Joel Forman (left), and Economic Development Director, Jessie Quillen, listen to Commissioner Ronald Williams explain the theory of economic development.

According to the letter, the loan would be secured by CMS's equipment, which it has yet to purchase.

It was not explained if or why CMS was turned down for a business loan by a bank or the SBA. No financial statements were in the possession of the Board for review and none were obtained.

The County Commission did not inquire if CMS could afford even a 2% simple interest rate on the County's $86,000. 2% would have cost CMS $1720 in the first year. A small price to pay for the County money.

There was no contract presented to the County Commission for approval and the Economic Development Committee's attorney, Joel Foreman, said one would be coming and that maybe the County would be a second mortgage holder on a note CMS was going to get for a mortgage. Second mortgage holders do not fare well whenever it comes to collection time. It is not clear how much Mr. Foreman made on this deal.

The lack of details did not have the Commissioners miss a beat and demonstrated that they could sit in with their counterparts in Washington when it comes to giving away or loaning the tax payer's money without due diligence.

After a brief explanation of the theory of economic development by long time County Commissioner Williams, the Board voted unanimously for the interest free $86,000 loan. 

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On August 17, citizen49A of Lake City wrote:

The Observer wrote: "... they would be better off spending the money for more productive endeavors, like donating the money to the school district so that it could teach the children in the county's failing schools how to read."

You don't get it. That's about the last thing they want to do with their money. This is the third world model.  There are too many educated people who can read in this county already. They're the ones who read articles like this and get incensed and want to throw these people out.  No, it's better to keep them dumb, compliant, and properly respectful of their leaders.


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