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For the County 5 & Sheriff Hunter, It's Time to Regroup: No New Taxes – New Jail on Hold

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Yesterday evening, fifteen minutes before the County 5 budget hearing was gaveled to order, your reporter asked commissioner elect Rocky Ford what he thought was going to happen regarding the tax increase and the county jail. Mr. Ford's prediction: "They won't raise taxes and the jail will be put on hold." That is what happened.

The Budget Hearing: You Are There

Long time District I Commissioner Ronald Williams kicked off the discussion: "We said if the citizen would pass the infrastructure tax we could switch money around and do away with the millage increase and there wouldn't be any increase in taxes. I'm for doin' away with the millage increase."

Turning to Chairman Tim Murphy, he said, "Chair, we asked you to be a representative of this jail for this board. When we talked about this jail we talked about twenty-five million dollars. That's it. Twenty-five million dollars. We're goin' to build a jail for twenty-five million dollars."

More about the County jail.An unidentified commissioner said, "That's all we voted for."

Com. Williams continued, (to Mr. Murphy) "Can we make that commitment to a twenty-five million dollar jail and if so, when will we be able to turn the first shovel of dirt towards this twenty-five million dollar jail? I am not for askin' the taxpayers to pay a increase in taxes and nothin' gonna' be done for another whole year."

Chairman Murphy responded, "I was asked by this board; appointed by this board to work on this committee [county manager, sheriff, and jail administrator] to bring back a price for this jail. As a group, we've been workin' very hard."

"Are we to a point where I can sit here and confidently tell each and every person in here that we can build the jail for twenty-five million? Absolutely not. Can I tell you that it's gonna' be built in the next year? Absolutely not. We've got the mitigation credit issue; a dirt issue; and the sewage issue."

Commissioner Williams followed up, "That's what I needed to know. For me to support a jail it's gonna' cost twenty-five million dollars."

County Manager Ben Scott added, "I can't tell you today 'yes' we can build a jail for twenty-five million dollars and I can't tell you when we're gonna' start it."

Commissioner Sylvester "Bucky" Nash weighed in, "If you roll back to the 8.015 [millage rate] you're gonna' be runnin' a bare bones budget for the next year. If you do the jail you're basically gonna' take all your new revenue and dedicate it towards the jail.

County Manager Scott told The 5 that the way things stood all increases in revenue would be going to fund the jail.

Commissioner DePratter
The Fiscal Conscience of the Board from the Beginning

Commissioner DePratter: "There's five businessmen on this board and we need to act like businessmen... I see the fact that we have to live within our means and I think that's what we should do."

Commissioner Phillips weighed in: "I'm kinda in agreeance with Ron and Rusty down there. I think the County should be utilizin' some of the funds that's here and there that's kinda' scattered around that everybody don't see what they are... I'm not for raising the millage rate."

Chairman Murphy Leveled-up

Mr. Murphy told The 5: "We're gonna' stay on the straight and narrow path. Regardless whether we build it or not, I'm gonna' bring back to the taxpayers and the board of commissioners here, a good plan and a real dollar figure." (1:26:38)

The Hearing Opened to the Public

Mr. Louis Munoz said, "I'm on a fixed income and I live within my tiny budget, so you need to stop wasting my money. It's not your money."

Retired school teacher Bonnie Foster: "My name is Bonnie Foster. We moved here three years ago. I'm a retired teacher and my husband is semi-retired and had to go to work at Home Depot part time just to make ends meet."

Ms. Foster continued, "I'm not shaking because I'm nervous, but I was recently diagnosed with Parkinson's. I have a problem approving things for jails. Where's the thing for seniors? Where the thing for educators? I'm in favor of a tax rate of no budget changes... I didn't get an increase of Medicare; I didn't get increases in my teacher's retirement. It all goes for medicine and medication and for care... Don't vote for our taxes bein' [increased]. It may not seem much to you all, but when you're talkin' about individual income that does not increase, it is a big deal."

A shortly thereafter, the County 5 voted unanimously to keep the millage rate the same as last year (8.015) and to put the proposed new and unneeded new County jail on hold.

Mr. Foster, who was sitting next to your reporter asked, "What did they just do?"

Your reported answered, "They are not raising the tax rate and the jail is on hold."

Ms. Foster smiled, gathered up her papers, which included her TRIM notice and told your reporter, "I am going to go home and tell my husband. He will be pleased."

Ms. Foster, with some effort, left the meeting and The 5 continued with its other scheduled business.

Epilogue

The second budget hearing will be held on September 20 at 5:30 pm.

Note: some comments abridged.

Photos are file photos.

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