Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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Lake Shore Hosp Auth News

Lake Shore Hosp Auth: Land buying spree to haunt taxpayers. Berry, "Give em' the land."

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Last night the Lake Shore Hospital Authority (LSHA) Board began the process of what soon may become the great Lake Shore Hospital Authority land giveaway. It considered what to do with part of the millions of dollars of land it purchased at the height of the real estate bubble in the mid 2000's. By June of 2007, the total purchase or appraised value of the Authority's land deals was $3,699,320. Last night, after taking millions in value off the tax rolls, the Authority does not pay taxes, it looked like the only way to get the property back on was to give it away.

Authority Manager's Report: "Basically, give em' the land"

Jackckson P. "Jack" Berry
In 2007, Jackson P. "Jack" Berry, a 2004 Jeb Bush appointee, became Chairman of the LSHA board. Mr. Berry resigned his position in late 2009 and in April 2010 he became the Authority's $60,000 a year part time manager. In November 2010 the FBI began an investigation of the Authority. In April 2011, the Board approved Mr. Berry, the former Republican Chieftain, going full time with a salary and benefit package approaching $100,000.

Manager Berry's monthly report, which the Authority claims it does not keep, began with Mr. Berry telling the Board, "I've been approached by a doctor that's interested in building an office on a lot next to the generator place... He wants to build an 1800 to 2,000 sq ft office and it [he] was wantin' to know if the board would be interested in doin' some kind of a program to defray the cost of the land over a period of time, of like five years to get him -- basically give em the land with a guarantee that he'll operate a doctor's office there for a period of at least five years."

Manager Berry continued, "Say give em a grant each year till the amount of the -- whatever the property appraises for is written off."

Former bank president and LSHA Board member, Bruce Naylor asked, "What are you carrying it on your books for?"

Manager Berry answered, "Right, about $200,000 for the amount of property that they need. I don't know what they're on the books at right now."

Mr. Naylor wanted to know if the unnamed doctor was going to carve out the best of the property.

Manager Berry told him no, "It would just be half a city block."

"Sorry to put it in business terms... a return on the investment?"

Jack Berry points to map
In August 2009, then Board Chairman Berry points to a map showing properties purchased by the Authority. Click here to enlarge area. Today they remain vacant, depreciated, and off the tax rolls.

Bank President Naylor pressed on, "Is there a return on our investment? Sorry to put it in business terms, but we bought this land and we're holding it."

The property purchased by the Authority was purchased by tax dollars that flowed into the Authority from the residents and businesses of Columbia County.

stories are here.

Manager Berry had the answer, "You'd put it back on the tax rolls which would be there forever. Then once you put it back on the tax rolls, it will be on the tax rolls."

Bank President Naylor, "I'm thinking of the $200,000. I'm saying; what am I going to get for my 200,000?"

Business owner and past Board Chairman Marc Vann weighed in, "What you're gettin' now is nothin'."

When Mr. Naylor asked how much it cost to carry the property, Hospital Authority Manager Berry guessed at the amount.

During a discussion about how much value would be added to the tax rolls, General Manager Berry took a guess, "Just guessin' around 300,000."

During the time of the buying spree the Authority was floating on a sea of tax payer cash. There was no master plan. All the property was purchased for cash.

Board member Vann joined back in the conversation, "Of course when it was done the idea was clean it up -- the thought process of -- are you going to find doctors who were willing to do it or not do it."

That thought process does not appear to be in any published minutes of the Authority.

Mr. Vann continued, "The year I was chairman, Rhonda (Rhonda Sherrod, the hospital director) set up a meetin' with me with the doctors and basically the majority of em said that they would not be interested in building buildings where they didn't believe there was going to be appreciation... As long as they felt like the area was gonna go down instead of staying level or increase, then it would not be a wise investment..."

Mr. Vann, who as a Board member has a fiduciary responsibility to the residents of Columbia County continued, "We can't look at what it was bought for when it was bought, obviously, cause it was bought at a particular time when everything was the most expensive."

The properties, after being purchased and cleared, have sat vacant off the tax rolls for years with no interest shown from the private sector.

Bank President Naylor asked, "Is that a seed?"

Manager Berry answered, "I believe it will go into additional buildings."

Mr. Vann followed up, "You have to start somewhere -- you have to take the plunge."

Authority Attorney weighs in

LSHA Attorney Marlin Feagle didn't think he saw anything illegal if the Authority gave the property away.

Manager Berry told the Board, "I had Marlin research it and according to him he thinks we can do it."

Attorney Feagle opined, "You're guided by the charter and by some of the statutes. Some public entities like the County require you advertise before you can sell it -- take bids and things of that nature, but that statute only applies to the County."

Then Mr. Feagle suggested, "You make this same deal available to other doctors so the community doesn't feel it's being cherry picked by certain doctors."

A discussion followed. No one knew how a deal could be cut to give away the property.

When the discussion went nowhere, Manager Berry came up with a solution, "We can talk it over with the doctor and see which way he wants to go and come back with a proposal."

Epilogue: The Columbia County legend lives

There is another property that the Authority is actively working on developing. See the article, Lake Shore Hospital Authority: Secret procurement - No public comments allowed.

Manager Berry announced that he had a doctor interested in the doctor's office that the Authority was designing, building and financing.

Manager Berry told the Authority Attorney, "Marlin, I need to get with you and set up a date when we can talk to him and try to put the package together and bring it to ya at the next meeting."

Manager Berry then turned to Board member Vann, who is in the flooring business and told him he was "late getting his quote in."

In Columbia County, the legend lives.

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