March 31, 2008
Your organization has gone quiet these past few months of the New Year, and that's intentional. Concerned Citizens of Franklin County has been very active but most of our efforts have been below the radar screen so we can go about the business of "discovery" without making too many waves. But, before I tell you what we are up to, I'd like to take a minute to discuss various county happenings.
- One of the biggest pieces of news, at least from the counties perspective, is the dedication of the new Kendrick (as in Commissioner Sanders brother) ball field in Carrabelle. This million dollar sports complex matches the one built in Apalachicola. And did we mention that they already had an upgraded field right in Carrabelle?
- Beach renourishment at Alligator Point; it's a dead issue. Frankly, it does not matter what side of the issue you were on. About a million dollars was spent and wasted. The County simply never took ownership of the issue. Wouldn't put a dime of tax money into it and the conclusion was foregone. More importantly, they divided the people into camps and played them one against another. It will take years for the damage to heal. But wait, the issue of what will replace beach renourishment at AP has yet to be decided. You can only bet that the County will drop the ball again and only the next big storm will decide things. I hope nobody is killed or injured; severe property damage is a foregone conclusion.
- Everybody hear about the Bill Snyder case and the Lanark Village Water fiasco? Mr. Synder and a Mr. Rowell got into a fight at a meeting of the water department. Even though it appears that Mr. Rowell was the aggressor, Mr. Snyder was arrested by the Franklin County Sheriff's Department. Do you wonder why Mr. Snyder was arrested instead of Mr. Rowell? Apparently, a jury wondered why too because this last week a jury acquitted Mr. Snyder in 15 minutes flat.
- The County is atwitter with news from the Property Appraiser's office that valuations will be down this year and the subsequent take from you will be down commensurately. The County's reaction — Seeking cuts in the current budget (a good move) while stating unequivocally that protecting jobs is their number one priority.
- The head of the Seafood Task Force (STF) had a tiff with the County Commission. Seems he called them names like incompetent and useless. This completely sent one of the commissioners into orbit and she was unable to focus for a week I've been told. The STF refused to back down and stood fast with its leader.
- The Chairman of the County Commission still refuses to allow nighttime meetings so that working citizens can attend and participate in our county government.
- If you haven't heard already, the Tax Collector had another embezzlement. This is the third time in about 10 years. What's different this time is the amount; about $10,000 and who (the daughter of one of the Commissioners. The Apalachicola Times never mentioned any details including the name of the individual or that there was even a crime. They described it as "a breach in internal controls". They allowed the individual to resign for said breach.
We have seven projects either under way or completed this quarter. While we can't get into details on several of them publicly, know that there is a lot more to each of these bullets.
- Your CCFC held a great seminar for the citizens, elected officials and county employees of Franklin. The First Amendment Foundation is "the source" of information related to our First Amendment rights to procure records under the Open Records Act and is a watchdog concerning Sunshine laws. Their President put on a great seminar. Unfortunately, only one elected official thought this was important; Marcia Johnson, Clerk of the Court.
- Administrative matters. We have made sure that the CCFC is running legally and abiding by all the legal restrictions and reporting requirements under State and Federal laws.
- We continue to take a focus on the Property Tax Appraiser's (PTA) office on multiple issues. The CCFC has developed information that will lead to reforms and at the appropriate time will make that information public. Our issue is not enforcing the law — it's enforcing it equally and consistently.
- The County budget is still squarely in our crosshairs. As an example, we note that the County spent more purchasing bulk fuel by the gallon than it would have cost to buy it at the pump. They also bought mid grade instead of regular! The County also violated its own policy by not competing the fuel purchases but instead buying their fuel without bids from a local supplier.
- We are planning on how to participate again in this year's budget process. I am really concerned that the County might resort to just raising the millage rate instead of making the type of cuts that are warranted after 20 years of ever increasing budgets. It all depends on what you and the CCFC do over the next six months or so.
- County-Wide Voting is a sore spot with many people. With the County voters 69% vote for County-wide voting and then the Board of Commissioners disingenuously shutting the issue down, the matter still simmers. We have a Federal Judge's order stating one thing while Michael Shuler states another.
- The County has Reserves and Cash Carried Forward of approximately $17 million. To put that into perspective that's considerably more than they collected in ad valorem taxes last year. Your Association is trying to determine of that money, what money is available for reprogramming and what money is fenced off. Our purpose in understanding this is to know if the County's reserves are larger than they need or are allowed by law. This has been the dirty little secret of Franklin County for years. Unlike a business, a County can not make a profit. Therefore, it is constrained to a significant degree on how much money it can hold in any rainy day fund no mater what they might say. It's your money.
These are the major items that we are working on quietly at this time.
Next month, it is time we replenish our treasury and we will ask you to support us again this year. For now, I want you to know that you have some amazingly hard working individuals that toil without recompense for you and your fellow Franklin County property taxpayers. It's all about fairness and openness. As always, I ask for your comments, words of support and ideas.
Thank you for your support and encouragement.
Allan J. Feifer,
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.