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Lake City Vice Mayor Appears Before the County 5 to Discuss City Utility Policy & the City Budget: His Appearance Not Sanctioned by the City Council

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL –  Last night, Lake City's Vice Mayor / City Utility Advisory Committee Chair, Chris Greene, made a surprise visit to the County 5. Despite Mr. Greene's announced closed-mindedness, the County agreed to join Councilman Sampson's reconstituted City Utility Advisory Committee.

Background: January 14, Councilman Sampson Wins Agreement On a Revised City Utility Committee

As reported earlier, after an almost two-year hiatus, the City Utility Committee met.

Commissioner Rocky Ford
Chairman Rocky Ford at the January 14 Utility Committee meeting.

During that meeting, County 5 Chairman Rocky Ford resurrected the 2008 idea of a regional utility for all Columbia County.

At that time, he told the City Committee, "I'm here representin' the Board of County Commissioners... We should have a five-year goal. We form a regional utility at that point... the County really wants to work with the City... We think we should be equal partners... The only way for the County to put funding in the utility is through a regional utility... I think a regional utility is the answer to all of our problems."

Later in the meeting, Councilman Sampson recommended the City's Utility Committee be revamped to include two county commissioners, two city council members, the respective municipal managers, the City utility director, and the County economic development director.

Mr. Sampson also recommended the City and County work together to develop a five-year strategic plan for countywide utilities."

Councilman Greene supported both motions, which passed and will be brought before the City Council at its next meeting.

City Councilman Greene: A Surprise Appearance At The 5
Given a few minutes to speak, he spent an hour

As yesterday evening's meeting of the County 5 got underway, Commissioner Ford rearranged the agenda to accommodate Councilman Greene, telling the County 5, "We have a representative, Mr. Greene from the City here. I'd like to allow Mr. Greene to have a few minutes."

Councilman Todd Sampson was also in attendance.

Lake City, City Councilman Chris GreeneVice Mayor / Councilman / Utility Committee Chairman Greene (all one person) came to the microphone. "I come tonight, although I represent District 14 on the City Council, and I am the Chair of the Lake City Utility Advisory Committee, tonight I am coming to you as Chris Greene. I'm not representing each one of those organizations. We still are working through our process. I don't want to misrepresent. The purpose of my being here tonight is to make myself available to you and to share with you my thoughts concerning utilities, so if you have questions, hopefully, I can answer them for you."

The rest of Mr. Greens' remarks were not as a plain, unaffiliated citizen, but those of Utility Committee Chairman and City Councilman.

Mr. Greene said, "When it comes to the regional utility, I cannot support a regional utility."

Councilman Greene shared City Utility budget numbers with The 5. He gave his opinion on why the regional utility idea would not work, telling them that the City could not balance its budget without transferring utility money into the general fund.

Councilman Greene added, "The City would not be able to survive without those funds," and the City couldn't "endanger those funds."

Councilman Greene said he would be happy to answer questions, but wanted to be clear he was "not answering them on behalf of the City Council."

Columbia County Commissioner Toby WittAfter another ten minutes of Councilman Greene discussing the City's finances and debating the regional utility concept and Lake City being the utility provider for the County, County 5 member Toby Witt said, "My view on this has changed. I was 100 percent in favor of the City handling Utilities County-wide. Recent developments have changed my feeling. We're not always going to have the same priorities... I'm 100 percent committed to workin' with the City on joint utility endeavors where it makes sense. The City's stance, where you are going to be the only utility provider, is no longer feasible in my mind."

Mr. Witt said that when a company comes to the County and says, "I wanna' go here, we as a board of County commissioners aren't gonna' say no, we're gonna' do everything we can to make that happen. We're gonna' promise the moon and work our butts off to deliver it."

Commissioner Witt continued, "To me, if we can't be a joint utility, where the County has an equal say and where, when, and how we put utilities in County-wide, then it makes no sense to me just to say, we're gonna' let the City do it all."

Councilman Greene made some confusing remarks about representation, something which he does not appear to understand fully, and said, "I'm committed to working with the County commissioners if you guys want to do that. If you don't, I do understand that... There are practical reasons why the City cannot support a regional utility... I'm not going to change the fact that I cannot commit to a regional utility."

Almost 30 minutes before, Councilman Greene said he was not talking as a City Councilman.

Commissioner Ford: "You are premature"

Lake City Councilman Todd SampsonEarly today, City Councilman Todd Sampson spoke with your reporter:

"I was surprised to see Councilman Greene debating City policy at a meeting of the County 5. This is not where City policy should be debated.

I am pleased that the County agreed to join the proposed reconstituted committee and I am looking forward to working with the County and hope that open minds will prevail."

County 5 Chairman and businessman Rocky Ford told Councilman Greene, "I think you are looking at this prematurely. I think you ought to explore the options of the regional utility and how the City can be reimbursed financially and keep an open view until you say, 'It won't work.'"

"I think you are shutting the door without knowing all information that's behind that door. I would encourage you -- to let's explore this -- and look at all the alternatives to it before you make a conclusion that it just won't work for the City."

Councilman Greene followed up, mentioning risking the City's utility funds and again saying he was only talking for "Chris Greene."

He said, "A regional utility is a nonstarter for Chris Greene. I'm here tonight, to be honest, so we don't waste a lot of effort... It has to be good for both sides."

Commissioner Ford said, "I agree. It has to be good for both sides. I think that is something that needs to be explored and worked out, and I think we can come to a conclusion, at the end, it is a good deal for both sides."

He continued, "If you're going into this with a closed mind right from the start, then we are going to get nowhere."

Councilman Greene responded, "I don't have a closed mind; I have a very open mind."

Columbia County Commissioner Ronald WilliamsVeteran County 5 member Ron Williams weighed in, "It's premature that you guys have already told your priorities, and then want to develop a utility committee, with your priorities already set. I don't understand. Two members of the Board of County Commissioners on the committee is not going to change your priorities. You've already got them set."

Commissioner Williams continued, "Do I want to be in the utility business? Heck no... We got to do somethin'. We got to do what we got to do."

Councilman Greene mentioned a workaround in applying for and receiving water use permits at the Suwannee River Water Management District. He explained that the City Engineer, Jamie Bell of Jones Edmunds, explained how to do that at the Utility Committee meeting.

County Commissioner Tim MurphyCommissioner Murphy weighed in: "We're not going to be able to come together on every single thing... I don't want to be in the utility business... I think it would be an injustice to all the taxpayers in Columbia County that we don't sit down on this committee. We're going to do everything that we can to work together... We can't close the door."

Mr. Murphy said, "Everybody needs to have an open mind."

After almost an hour of debate with Councilman Greene, Chairman Ford asked for a motion to accept the City Utility Committee recommendation that the County join the revised Utility Committee with two commissioners, the county manager and the County Economic Development Director.

It was unanimous. The County will now be represented unless the City Council turns it down.

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