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Sheriff Mark Hunter's Percent Based Budgeting Deal with the County 5 – Officially Exterminated

Sheriff Mark Hunter
Sheriff Mark Hunter, Florida Sheriff Association (FSA) president, observes the County 5 at the end of his presentation, before the final vote to end the only deal like it in Florida.

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Thursday night, March 7, 2019, Sheriff Mark Hunter's percent based budgeting deal with the Columbia County 5 almost faded quietly away. After the motion was made to end the agreement, the discussion began with some humor. Commissioner Witt said, "I'm only going to be a minute. I'm not going to do a Tim Murphy and make a long speech." Everybody chuckled. There were no more chuckles.

Background:  Columbia County, the Florida Sheriffs Association Stalking Horse for Florida.

Read more about the percent based budget agreement here:
The next big issue- Percent Based Budgeting

In March 2015, the Columbia County 5 approved the first and what has turned out to be the only percent based budgeting deal between a Sheriff and a County in the entire state of Florida.

The agreement was between the County and Mark Hunter as the Sheriff of Columbia County. Had Sheriff Hunter resigned, taken a job somewhere else, or been picked up by space aliens, the Agreement would have automatically terminated.

Thursday Night
The 5 Did Everything But Genuflect Before Pulling the Plug

The Columbia County 5

Newly elected and long time friend of Sheriff Hunter, District 4 Commissioner Toby Witt began the discussion: "Nobody up here is against you. We're buildin' a state of the art correctional facility because the Sheriff said he needed it. And if the Sheriff tells me he needs somethin' and it's for your safety or your future, I'm gonna' work damn hard to make sure you get it."

Commissioner Sylvester "Bucky" Nash followed up: Public safety is a big deal to us... We're just reorganizin' because we're buildin' the jail."

Newly elected District 2 Commissioner Rocky Ford was next: "We're gonna' do what's necessary for the Sheriff's Department... We are tryin' to build a jail because the Sheriff say's he needs a new jail. To do that we're gonna' have to make some sacrifices. It's as simple as that. Reserve funds and stuff like that. The County has reserve funds. The Sheriff don't need reserve funds..."

Commissioner Ford continued, "As far as public safety goes, that's our job to make sure you all have adequate funding for public safety and we will make sure you have adequate funding for that."

In some circles, Sheriff Hunter has taken credit for the election of Mr. Ford, a tactic he used to lobby the commissioner to support his Percent Based Budget contract.

Sheriff Hunter's lifelong friend, they ran around in diapers together, Tim Murphy was next: "Me and Mark go way back before a lot of people in this room. The Sheriff's done this community a great honor... The Sheriff's budget has increased almost 20% in the last 4 years; that's correct; because we know that the Sheriff's Office needs this type of money to continue down the path that you followed... This is a business move and will best serve all the constituents of Columbia County.

County 5 Chairman Ronald Williams said, "I have not heard this board say durin' a work shop that we are about to cut the Sheriff budget."

Chairman Williams Invited Sheriff Hunter to the microphone
For 21 minutes the Sheriff made his case, again

Sheriff Mark Hunter makes a point.
Sheriff Hunter makes a point.

Sheriff Hunter Told The 5: "I know that this was a foregone conclusion before we got here that you all were wantin' to terminate the agreement... I just want to make sure that we have on the record that this is not punitive or that there was any improprieties whatsoever with the Sheriff's Office and my staff and the way that we conducted the finances with the Sheriff's Office... I appreciate the comments that you've made, but whenever we make a drastic change like this, it's upsetting to the constituents... I'm very proud of our Sheriff's Office...

Sheriff Hunter continued: "I understand what you're doin'. I understand. And it's about the money... I don't want any more money than is necessary to operate the Sheriff's Office then that... I've never had a problem with justifying one penny that's been taxpayer money that's been spent at the Sheriff's Office."

Sheriff Hunter on the Proposed New Jail

Read about the county jail issues and the proposed Hunter Hilton

Sheriff Hunter said, "As far as the jail goes, you guys appoint me or ask me to be the chief jailer for you. You guys own the jail... but we're buildin' it for this county. It is not for Mark Hunter. It's not for the Sheriff. It's for us to be able to operate our county within the statutes that are given to us by the legislature. As far as the Taj Mahal, we've been workin' hard tryin' to fit that in..."

Sheriff Hunter, Looking for Guarantees

Sheriff Hunter asked The 5 to allow him to continue to keep his year end money (surplus money not spent from his budget).

Major Joe Lucas and Captain Chris Douglas
The Sheriff's second in command, Major Joe Lucas (orange collar), and Jail Administrator Chris Douglas (directly behind Maj. Lucas,  listen to Sheriff Hunter.

Since the Percent Based Contract went into effect in 2015, Sheriff Hunter has socked away millions in reserves.

Sheriff Hunter pulled the Sheriff's Office out of the County's health insurance group, without concern for the effect on the County's health insurance costs and joined the Florida Sheriff's Association (FSA) health plan.

Sheriff Hunter addressed the FSA's health plan, which has been suffering financial distress. He said, "It's a fledging program. I've got the commitment from the Sheriff's Association that this program is going to stabilize and it's gonna' work."

Other than that, there is no guarantee that it is going to work. Sheriff Hunter has never explained publically the "financial distress" of the program and how it may affect the financial condition of the Sheriff's Office.

Sheriff Hunter asked for a commitment that the Sheriff's Office grow at the same rate as the County. He explained, "So that we don't digress to the old days of where we're bleeding people and the equipment is somethin' to be like [sic]."

Finally, Sheriff Hunter asked The 5 to guarantee the "buildin' fund that we've had in there since 2015. I just want assurances that that money is gonna' be able to stay there."

Commissioner Murphy said, "I won't give you a commitment. I'll give you a guarantee. Commitments I think are a little weak."

Sheriff Hunter took the long walk back to his seat in the shadows.

Epilogue: Finality

Moments later, The 5 voted 5-0 to terminate the Percent Based Budgeting contract between the Sheriff Hunter and the County.

There were no other motions for commitments, guarantees, or anything else.

What is guaranteed is that Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter, like the other 66 Sheriffs in Florida, will present his budget like every other Sheriff in Florida.

Columbia County, the Florida Sheriff's Association stalking horse for Percent Based Budgeting, did not cross the finish line.

Comments  (to add a comment go here)

On March 14, 2019, a County volunteer wrote (posted 3/14)

I am so tired hearing about needing a new Jail for the sake of Public Safety. How about some of those funds going to the County Animal Control? It appears that nobody at the BOCC are considering Public Safety when it comes to the stray, abandoned, unwanted animal epidemic here in Columbia County.

The Lake City Humane Society is struggling to keep their heads above water while providing Animal Control services to the City and County, yet requests for budget increases fall on deaf ears.

No, wait, the requests are heard, but they are ignored or denied.

What does that have to do with Public Safety you may ask? Well, talk to the hundreds of callers who call Animal Control wanting a stray dog picked up, or "my neighbor's dog keeps coming in my yard and attacking my puppies", or "there are way too many feral cats hanging out around the local restaurant", or "I can't keep this dog any more, he bit my 4 year old son".

The Animal Control facility virtually stays at max capacity and the Humane Society folks bust their butts trying to keep these animals moving through the system and on to good homes or rescue organizations.

The County only provides funds to keep an animal for 3 days, any longer than that, the Humane Society is footing the bill to keep the animal. Guess what the BOCC expects to happen after 3 days at the facility?

Does anyone remember when the County ran animal control? Then one knows as the KILL shelter?

I wonder what the public response would be if the same rule applied to the County Correctional Facility?

Concerned Humane Society Volunteer

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