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Who are Franklin County’s Aristocrats?

on Friday, 22 September 2017.

As a watcher of the political scene for the past 13 years or so, I’ve seen the ups and downs of political life in our beautiful county. As a county, we are poor but proud. For outsiders, life is pretty good. But, for many multi-generational locals, choices are limited and opportunities much too rare.

Let’s talk a bit about why that is and what can be done about it. You might think the aristocrats are the moneyed outsiders who come here to enjoy the spectacular scenery and relaxed lifestyle that our county is famous for. But while these individuals do a significant share of the charity, volunteering and most importantly, paying the taxes that support other people who are not so fortunate, they are not the Aristocrats of Franklin County. So who is?

I did not come up with the term Aristocrats on my own. It was a hospital worker who once described to me the lack of benefits at Weems and the apparent lack of interest (real or imagined) for their personal safety by county leaders, i.e. The Aristocrats. I remembered that person’s comment.

The Aristocrats of Franklin County are comprised of two groups: The first are certain old family individuals who have enjoyed the gift of opportunities not available to “normal folk,” job preferences, loans at the locally controlled banks (less so today), political pull, access to real estate deals and favorable outcomes from county and city government.

The second are the hundreds of county, city, school and hospital employees, and at the apex, elected officials who enjoy higher paying jobs, job security, great benefits and frequently a much less stressful work life. To be perfectly clear, what is true of the whole is not necessarily true of the specific. There are county employees who work very hard and are low paid for the work they do. There is a continuing and significant disparity in county government that generally favors constitutional employees over the various county departments. There are major variations in pay for similar work.

Years ago, the county spent many thousands of dollars on a comprehensive compensation plan designed to treat employees without favoritism or ambiguity. It stills sits on the shelf because that document would take away the power that resides with county commissioners at present and certain leaders won’t allow that to happen.

Most counties in Florida have a county manager who runs the day-to-day activities of government. However, Franklin County has neither a county manager nor code enforcement officer, leading to direct management by county commissioners. This is by design and a holdover from days long gone and needs to change to more efficiently and fairly meet the needs of individual citizens and the county as a whole.

There is a bit of Marie Antoinette in some of our county leaders. Recently, I witnessed commissioners not even respond to requests to look at an ever-growing budget that has led to an increase in taxes for the last three years. And, don’t let them fool you with “we did not raise the millage rate,” either. This year, as in last year, more money is being taken from taxpayers to cover a $52 million budget, up almost $2 million over last year’s spending. Commissioners did not even ask staff for potential reductions in spending to close a half-million dollar gap.

According to Florida Office of Economic and Demographic Research; latest figures show tiny, rural Franklin County ranks as the seventh highest taxer per capita in the state. Why is that?

I can see France’s Marie Antoinette saying “Let them eat cake” as commissioners are wined and dined in Washington D.C. and at Florida Association of Counties’ extravaganzas, among other privileged events you pay for and can’t attend.

Our Constitution supports the concept of “Citizen Statesman.” You remember from your elementary school days “Government of the people, by the people, for the people.” As such, every citizen is equal to every elected official. No one should be afraid or intimidated to address their commissioners but too many in Franklin County worry about retribution, which has been carried out in the past. I know of this personally. Further, it is the height of arrogance for an elected official to publicly engage in constituent bashing in a public forum (I’ve seen that multiple times) while enjoying the best jobs in the county. When any elected official somehow comes to feel they are above questioning, reproach, accountability or a duty to engage with those they are representing; they need to find a new line of work. There should be no difference between an old line citizen and someone who just purchased property; that’s both the law and is at the core of our American way of life. There are no second-class citizens; we are all supposed to be equal.

The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County continually seeks to engage local government on issues of financial and economic development. Our voice is your voice. If you have been ignored or treated unfairly by your elected officials, I’d like to hear from you. Please contact me through ABetterFranklin.com. It is your government and our elected Aristocrats that must be reminded from time-to-time that they are servants of the people and not the other way around.

Allan J. Feifer
President

CCFC - Budget Workshop

on Monday, 18 July 2016. Posted in News from the President

Mid-Summer Happenings

Hello Everyone:

Oh joy! It’s that time of the year again when the public gets to take part and/or observe the county preliminary budget process. Next week at 1:00 p.m. on Tuesday the 19th of July and Wednesday at 9:00 a.m., your CCFC will be representing the taxpayers as they try to work out a just budget for the County Commission and Constitutional Officers. The Florida Constitution requires your County Commissioners to approve all Constitutional Officer Budgets. There is a reason for that. There is a built in conflict of interest between the leader of a constitutional office and the financial needs of the people. The founders of Florida understood that issue and made your Commissioners the arbiter of “how much is enough.”

While the final budget requests are not yet available for us to view and review, we do know that the largest component of the budget will be the Sheriff’s. The Sheriff is requesting a budget busting increase on top of the increase granted last year. We can’t see it. I have attached an analysis of problematic areas we are concerned with and will challenge next week. A couple of budget busters the outgoing Sheriff has built-in to his budget is the purchase five new vehicles a year instead of the traditional three and 10% raises for his Lieutenants and 5% raises for his Sergeants. Keep in mind, that the county itself almost always delivers an across the Board raise or bonus on top of this. It’s no wonder that virtually all the highest paying jobs in the county are government. Coupled with an extremely generous package of benefits, have we effectively separated the haves (government workers) from the have not’s (the rest of us)?

The County Tax Digest (all the taxable property in the county) as appraised by the Property Appraiser will show an overall 3-4 percent increase in the taxable value of properties. Some will see a slight decrease, but most of us will see a substantial rise in the value of their properties after many years of flat or decreasing values. That’s good news and bad news. Everyone wants their property to go up in value but don’t want a bigger tax bill as a result. The shell game the County plays is the misleading “I won’t raise your taxes.” Since the value of a home may increase 4% or more, if the Commissioners pass the same millage rate as last year, you’ll pay more and they will tell you they did not raise taxes. That’s not true. The only way a Commissioner can say they did not raise taxes is if they vote for and pass what is described as the Rollback Rate. The rollback rate is designed to bring in the same amount of revenue as the current year and adjusts the millage rate to achieve that.

I have been informed by at least one Commissioner that they want to raise taxes to meet the needs of the Sheriff and Hospital. Yes, our old friends Weems and the Emergency Management Services that they control, are hemorrhaging money and need more money than just the 1% Healthcare Trust Fund is currently providing. Now, there is an effort to take more ad valorem tax money to fund the existing three ambulances (an increased subsidy was provided for exactly that purpose three years ago) or Weems will be forced to borrow even more money from the Trust Fund that ostensibly was to pay for capital improvements and new construction, but is well on the way to being depleted due to ongoing emergency needs.

These two drivers (known to us at this time) are set to enable Commissioners to raise taxes on us all. Keep in mind that Franklin County is one of the top five spending counties per capita in the State. We are not a poor county, we just act like it.

Please join me at next week’s Budget Workshops as we discuss individual budgets. The Tuesday Workshop is to agree on Non-Governmental Entity contributions like the Humane Society, Meals-on-Wheels and many other worthy organizations that get at least some of their support from the County. The main event is Wednesday morning when we hit the bigger budget requests. If you can come for only a few hours, then Wednesday morning is preferable.

Too often, it appears as if the CCFC is anti-government at these workshops. County Commissioners should be the watchdogs, but they don’t see the hundreds of pages of documents in the budget until a few days or even the same day of the workshops. Often, they don’t understand what they see and rely on those asking for funding from them. Every county department and Constitutional Office tends to look out for themselves; it’s the nature of government. Ultimately, you are the watchdogs that either enable or restrain government from taking more than it needs.

Thank you for continuing support as the CCFC attempts to bring greater transparency, fiscal responsibility and accountability on behalf of Franklin County officials and voters. If you haven’t already, please don’t forget to renew your CCFC membership this month. We depend on your support!

Please feel free to download the Analysis Speadsheet for the Workshop Here

Sincerely,

Allan J. Feifer
President
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.
P.O. Box 990
Eastpoint, Florida 32328
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
ABetterFranklin.com
(850) 653-5571

“The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc. serves as a citizens’ advocate to ensure that our Franklin County governments are more open, affordable, efficient, and responsive to our citizens. The organization seeks to hold public officials accountable for their actions in the administration of their duties and in their fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers.”

CCFC Fundraiser Letter to County

on Tuesday, 08 November 2016.

Good Afternoon Fellow Franklin County Property Owners:

2016 has been another active year for our Association but marks the first stirrings of a lack of fiscal restraint returning. Six of seven governmental agencies in Franklin County raised their millage rates this year, with only Alligator Point Water going for the rollback rate. The CCFC represents those without a voice on matters of financial propriety, transparency, efficiency and public corruption in Franklin County. We work with Commissioners, Hospital Board and other elected officials throughout the year. If you ever had the feeling that you were powerless to affect change, that’s where we come in. We hold elected officials to account and influence the debate. Let me share with you some the highlights for this past year:

Annual Budget: The budget process went much too smoothly this year. Little introspection, lack of goal setting and a general feeling of “With property values increasing, let’s take some more money” predominated. I personally spoke to three Commissioners about asking for options from the Finance Office to save ½ million dollars on the county’s $50 million budget and received no support. Why? The Sheriff’s Office once again received a substantial raise in budget this year which we could see primarily as personnel cost increases. The issue of double dipping, i.e. Constitutional Officers giving raises to their employees and then taking an additional across the board raise from the County Commission should stick in everyone’s craw more than anything else. Just taking the obvious step of eliminating double raises would have saved the county $150,000. The CCFC believes there could have been a greater reduction in the millage rate, but it was not to be. We thank those that turned out in support for their participation. This is an example of the CCFC saving you money on taxes!

Health Care: A year later and nothing has changed except for a larger deficit. Weems total liabilities stand at $2.4 million and lost $2.335 million this last fiscal year. (before county subsidies) As we stated last year, the Weems Hospital System needs to be depoliticized and a cap put on the cost to the citizens of Franklin County. With Weems currently eating up the capital portion of the Healthcare Trust Fund for operational needs, the current course is unsustainable. The proposed renovation/additions will not change the income matrix appreciably, but will add costs, further exacerbating the problem. Weems clinics are doing even worse both financially and operationally. Weems East is close to collapse and can’t even agree what services to deliver. Promises of a risk sharing partner coming in to bail out the hospital are pipe dreams we fear.

Outreach: Each year I speak with dozens of people in public and private settings explaining the need and mission of our organization. In addition, we answer questions and assist when possible with members’ issues with Franklin County. We were shocked to learn earlier this year how many potentially fraudulent property tax emptions have been filed with the Property Assessor among other questionable practices. There simply are not enough properties paying taxes in Franklin. This costs us all in higher millage rates. In 2017, working with the Property Assessor will be a major push for the CCFC.

Annually, we reach out to the community at large for help in meeting the financial challenges of continuing the work of the CCFC. We engage professionals to further our mission (lawyers, accountants and investigators) we maintain and operate our website (www.abetterfranklin.com), and there are substantial mailing and other expenses to continue the work. Many members support us with dues payment of $100 or more to ensure our continued success. But whatever you can contribute, perhaps $25, $50, $75, will allow our year round work to ensure that good government for Franklin County becomes a reality. Please support our important work by citizens and for citizens by putting your check in the mail today! Make your check payable to the CCFC and mail it to P.O. Box 990, Eastpoint Florida 32328 while it is top of mind. Please feel free to share this letter with your friends; encourage them to join the CCFC. We represent you and you alone.

Thank you for your generous support. Dues are not deductible for income tax purposes.


Sincerely,
Allan J. Feifer—President
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.
P.O. Box 990
Eastpoint, Florida 32328
ABetterFranklin.com - (850) 653-5571

Click Here to download PDF Version of Letter

Crisis at Weems Hospital

on Saturday, 28 January 2017.

Hello Everyone:

The vast majority of healthcare in Franklin County is delivered by Doctors and Hospitals from out of county. Of the care delivered inside the county Weems East and West, the Health Department and various private Doctors and Nurses deliver the bulk of in county healthcare. I hear report after report of people happy with the clinics (at least until lately) and unhappy with Weems Hospital itself. We are not going to beat up on Weems Hospital today since it’s unfortunately imploding on its own. Daily overnight stays averaging one 1⁄2 per night, an 85 person staff and many primary services simply unavailable at the Hospital continue to be the real reason Weems is unable to attract enough patients and Doctors to be viable. Today, I simply want to report to you what is happening in county meetings this last week.

Tuesday at the normal county commission meeting, Commissioner Noah Lockley made a motion to terminate the management contract with TMH effective immediately, which was subsequently modified to the end of the contract between TMH and Weems. I guess no one was keeping up with the paperwork, because when they looked up the termination date, they found that it had already passed on January 2nd . Last Friday January the 20th, a special meeting was held of the County Commissioners to decide what to do. Hospital Management had told employees that the hospital was going to close if they did not make their voices heard at the Friday meeting. County Commissioners were not happy. The following is some of my notes from that meeting:

  1. CEO and CFO not present. Chairman Parrish says they are no longer employed. (this will have changed by end of meeting)
  2. Commissioner Sanders talked about why we are here today. Explained to audience what's happening with the relationship with TMH and it’s not about the hospital. She expressed her desire to put interim management in.
  3. Chairman Parrish says we need a management agreement with someone. He supports an agreement with TMH. Hospital will close without a management contract. Parrish wants to have TMH takeover completely, taking the Commission out of the loop. Smokey was agitated and wants an end to the current issues constantly being brought before the Board. Smokey says the county has a mandate from the citizens to provide healthcare.
  4. Commissioner Lockley expressed his reservations as to the accuracy of the hospital's financial reporting. He stated that the two people getting paid by TMH (the CEO and CFO) are not delivering results and should not be getting the benefit package they receive. Lockley defended his motion to terminate the management contract, talking to the many hospital employees in the audience.
  5. Commissioner Massey says the workers never hear the true story from hospital management. He also said that Cooper sent an email to the Board last week that they will need more money from the Capital side of the Trust Fund within a month or two. This may be the proximate cause as to why this is coming to a head.
  6. Commissioner Jones said he wants somebody who is knowledgeable and can take responsibility to take over. Wants to give up control in exchange for getting out of the hospital business. Board is for quality healthcare.
  7. Parrish proposed that the management contract be extended by 60 days to allow for a management contract to be negotiated with TMH. What he really meant was someone to lease the hospital and to take over full financial responsibility with some caveats.
  8. Jim Bachrach spoke and said TMH has no interest in taking over the hospital itself. That they needed a partner to make this viable with expertise in Critical Care Access.
  9. I spoke to the issue at hand from the CCFC's point of view. Several other supporters of the hospital spoke as well. Approximately 75 people in the audience. I had written up a position paper and gave it to all Commissioners prior to the meeting. I praised the decision to go out and seek an entity to take over but expressed that only talking to TMH limited our ability to negotiate and could lead to us not having anyone to move forward with in sixty days and being in the position of being up against the wall. I specifically suggested that talking to other neighbor healthcare systems could not hurt us and could only help us understand the issues and what is reasonable to expect and what is not.
  10. Motion by Lockley to extend the agreement with TMH by 60 days while negotiations with TMH go forward passed.

For years now, the CCFC has focused on the financial numbers. Those numbers tell us that no one can run Weems profitably. Weems receives approximately $2 million a year in various subsidies and that’s not enough. Weems has current Accounts Payable of about $2 million owed to vendors, the County and TMH with no real ability to pay that back. While everyone says that quality healthcare for the citizens of Franklin County is a priority, the decisions taken and the care delivered belie that assertion.

Thank you for your support of the CCFC. Not a member? No problem, click on... http://abetterfranklin.com/index.php/join-ccfc Join today. We depend on your support!
Membership dues are not tax deductible.

Thank you for your support!

Sincerely,

Allan J. Feifer
President
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.
P.O. Box 990
Eastpoint, Florida 32328
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
ABetterFranklin.com
(850) 653-5571

“The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc. serves as a citizens’ advocate to ensure that our Franklin County governments are more open, affordable, efficient, and responsive to our citizens. The organization seeks to hold public officials accountable for their actions in the administration of their duties and in their fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers.”

Commissioner Contacts:
Cheryl Sanders - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 697-2534
Chairman-Commissioner Smokey Parrish - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-8790
Commissioner Ricky Jones - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-8861
Commissioner Noah Lockley - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-4452
Commissioner William Massey - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-8861
Please feel free to redistribute this email to your friends!

The Continuing Crisis at Weems Hospital

on Friday, 17 February 2017.

Hello Everyone:

The following is an open letter than I am sending to our membership and friends. Next Tuesday the 21st of February at 9:00 a.m. in the courthouse annex the County Commission will meet for its second meeting of the month. It is my hope that the county will address the issues I have laid out in my email to them today. If you can attend, please do. Read what I have written below and please send me your comments.

To Our Commissioners:

Thank you for addressing the continuing debacle at Weems. With the departure last week of the CFO at Weems and TMH’s decision this week to not entertain an agreement with the county on running Weems; we find ourselves at an impasse. It is true that the ballot initiative some 10 years ago promised a new hospital to the people of Franklin County. The Chairman has eloquently expressed his desire to fulfil that pledge. What is currently planned is not a new Hospital and the people understand that what is contemplated amounts to a renovation and addition, not a new hospital. That promise to the people has already been broken. We have no way forward to building a new hospital, fully equipped and staffed at the level of a hospital like Sacred Heart as just an example. The cost to do so including matching services of other full service hospitals would cost upwards of $25 million. And, where would the patients and staff come from? 40% of our employees today live out of county I was recently told. Everyone has to understand that. If the Renovation and Additions move forward, we will still have no operating rooms or surgeons, no physical therapy, no dialysis, no digital imaging and on and on. With this starting point we then look at the millions of dollars currently owed with no reasonable expectation that we can catch up, and with the further expectation that we will continue to deplete the Capital Portion of the Healthcare Trust Fund going forward. How can things get worse?

They can. On March 7th the contract extension agreement with TMH expires. Do we have any assurance that TMH will extend that agreement and are commissioners even ok with an extension? At least one Commissioner has expressed a desire to change the CEO’s compensation plan. What is our plan should Mike Cooper leave without notice? I am not saying that he will, but we’ve been there before. There are a lot of balls in the air and the Commission needs to take a no nonsense stand on what our options are. Punting a decision down the road is unthinkable. Everyone involved knows there is a train wreck coming. The 85 employees of Weems and the Clinics deserve certainty. The citizens of Franklin County deserve certainty. Commissioners want certainty but are not doing what is required of them as the weeks and months of inaction prove only so well. Recently one Commissioner made a motion to go out for a Request for Proposals to manage and assume financial risk. That motion died for lack of a second. Why? The fact that you are a collective body has hindered the process to date. I hope this coming Tuesday this body of good people decides to act in the best interest of Franklin County Citizens as they do on most everything else. There are options. There are answers. Step one is realizing, finally realizing, that this problem is not going away whether we wish it to or not. The most important promise that was made to the people was one of access to good health care. You can still do that and never be ashamed of breaking promises. Let’s not act under crisis. We still have a short window to plan and execute. I hope this issue is fully discussed at next Tuesday’s meeting followed by a Workshop

Thank you,

Allan Feifer Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.

There you have it. BIS may be the technique that finally breaks up this logjam. BIS is Butts in Seats. If the Commission sees that their constituents are paying attention, they are more likely to act. Show Commissioners that you are unwilling to pay higher property taxes to support a ship sinking under its own weight. After the Trust Fund is depleted you are next. Even more importantly, demand better healthcare outcomes than we receive today. Good health should be a fundamental demand for the money we are already paying.

Thank you for your support of the CCFC. Not a member?
No problem, click on… http://abetterfranklin.com/index.php/join-ccfc Join today. We depend on your support!
Membership dues are not tax deductible. Thank you for your support!

Sincerely,
Allan J. Feifer
President
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.
P.O. Box 990
Eastpoint, Florida 32328
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

ABetterFranklin.com
(850) 653-5571

“The Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc. serves as a citizens’ advocate to ensure that our Franklin County governments are more open, affordable, efficient, and responsive to our citizens. The organization seeks to hold public officials accountable for their actions in the administration of their duties and in their fiduciary responsibilities to the taxpayers.”

Commissioner Contacts:
Cheryl Sanders - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 697-2534
Chairman-Commissioner Smokey Parrish - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-8790
Commissioner Ricky Jones - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-8861
Commissioner Noah Lockley - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-4452
Commissioner William Massey - This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 653-8861
Please feel free to redistribute this email to your friends!

Letter to the Editor in the Apalachicola Times

on Tuesday, 28 February 2017.

For more than 10 years, the Concerned Citizens of Franklin County (CCFC) has consistently advocated for improved healthcare in Franklin County. The quality of healthcare -- outcomes -- lag behind Gulf and Wakulla counties in many indices. The citizens of the community deserve better -- because our quality of life is often defined by our overall health.

At the second and final County Commission meeting of February, towards the end of the meeting, county attorney Michael Shuler quietly asked the Commission for authority to start negotiations with an unnamed and unknown third party to take over Weems Hospital. County officials did not disclose what had transpired since the first Commission meeting of the month. In that short two-week period, Dana Whaley the Nurse Practitioner Specialist in Carrabelle quit, the Chief Financial Officer of Weems quit and Tallahassee Memorial Healthcare informed the County that it was unwilling to make any management deals directly with the County.

The steady erosion of confidence in Weems Hospital and the Clinics continues unabated. To any objective observer, Weems is in freefall, with nothing but continual injections of taxpayers’ money keeping the doors open. Weems has over $2 million in current liabilities. The hospital mischaracterizes its financials by not including the approximate $900,000 borrowed from the Capital portion of the Healthcare Trust Fund over the last 14 months incorrectly as a long term liability. However, promises have been continually made to Commissioners that as soon as this or that money comes in, it will all be repaid.

Casting a long shadow over everything else is that the Employment Agreement with TMH that pays the current CEO and until recently also paid the CFO is or will be expiring on March 7th. In the absence of an extension, the current CEO has stated he will not work directly for the County; either the contract gets extended or he’s out on that day. And, the county has a weak hand in dealing with TMH. TMH is currently owed in excess of $650,000 in unpaid money for the agreement we now expect them to extend.

Against this backdrop, the County Commission could not find time to discuss contingency planning and what’s in the best interest of the citizens of Franklin County. During the Public Comments section of the last meeting, former Carrabelle Mayor Mel Kelly spoke specifically of the need to view the Franklin County healthcare situation as a whole system on behalf of comprehensive delivery of services. Instead, Kelly explained, administration/leaders are perpetually operating in a crisis management mode over repeated, separate challenges such as provider staffing and salaries, underused building facilities, equipment replacement and maintenance, billing/accounting software companies, mandates and other issues.

As President of the CCFC, I spoke too many of these issues Tuesday. Please view this segment on our website http://abetterfranklin.com/index.php/ccfc-videos. The CCFC will have those comments posted on our ABetterFranklin.com website soon.

Putting a cherry on top of all of this, at the conclusion of my remarks, Commissioner Lockley blurted out: “You and Mel Kelley can go back from where you came from.” Not a word of censure or rebuke was heard from the Chairman who stated “let him have his three minutes.” I have no quarrel with Commissioners Sanders, Massey or Jones, as I think they “get it.” One other Commissioner stated “we’ve done everything we know to do.” I respect the Commissioner who said that. But, you don’t get points for “Best Efforts”; you get points for a successful outcome.

Throwing money at a problem is not a strategy; it is the absence of one. It is arrogance of power when elected officials tell citizens “go back where you came from.” The TDC recently changed our county’s motto to “The Forgotten Coast.” We spend millions on improving our County’s image. But an ugly, outrageous statement like that is the worst kind of message and uncovers a naked truth about Franklin County: some of our ‘leaders’ don’t actually care about or like the people they serve, particularly those “outsiders.” Thousands of people have come to live, work, volunteer or retire in Franklin County over the years. Those “outsiders” who employ many locals and pay the vast majority of taxes, have now been told to sit at the back of the bus and keep their mouth shut.

That’s not democracy. It is despicable demagoguery and abuse of the bully pulpit to just be a blustering bully.

I hope two things come out of this ugliness. First, that the Board of County Commissioners apologizes for the insult to citizens not born here but who have greatly contributed to the quality of life in the community. This is not the first time this particular Commissioner has said something similar, nor has he been the only one. Second, the Commission should hire an Independent third party healthcare consultancy to immediately assess the state of health care in Franklin County. The follow-on project should be to identify resources and potential partners to meet the needs of Franklin County citizens while protecting their wallets. Only through a methodical third party approach that does not predetermine the outcome will the “right” answers be forthcoming.

Allan Feifer
President
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc.

Finding Change in the Cushions:

on Tuesday, 15 August 2017.

Our County taxes are again on the rise.

Franklin County is returning to the old days of allowing increasing property values to result in unnecessary high tax collections. What will this mean to your own household finances and why are elected officials deliberately allowing this to happen to us all, again?

After attending the budget workshops for this upcoming fiscal year, I came to realize that county leadership is not scrutinizing spending and costs as it was forced to do when we were in crisis mode after the last real estate collapse. And, with over eleven hundred property tax certificates sold on the courthouse steps this year, (citizens that could not afford to pay their property taxes) it is clear that Franklin county citizens and property owners are still hurting economically. We believe taxes are unnecessarily high due to lack of responsible fiscal management at the county level. To again increase taxes on homes and businesses beyond last year’s increases comes from either mismanagement or a lack of focus on the importance of fiscal discipline.

Here is some background information for you to consider: The County Tax Digest (the value of all taxable properties) bottomed out in the 2013/2014 budget year at $1.632 billion. Since then, it has been slowly rising: this year’s Tax Digest is estimated at $1.825 billion - more than a 10% increase. (And remember there are other new fees and taxes also available and used in county budgeting IN ADDITION TO THE TRADITIONAL FUNDING WELL OF AD VALOREM MONIES; they include Tourism’s bed tax, Sales, Gasoline and Health Care taxes, grants and other significant revenue resources.

So, the 2013-14 county budget was $43.584 million but the new proposed budget for 2017-18 has increased to $52.259 million. (That is a 20% Increase over four years.) Ad Valorem tax collection is proposed to be increased by 9% over that same four years. This all means that additional monies may be unnecessarily taxed on you.

It is also important to keep in mind that the millage rate – assessed on you by the county commissioners to partially pay for the budget they approve –can result in your taxes being further increased as well. For example, in that earlier 2013/2014 period, millage was set at 6.4705 mills. Now, the proposed millage has been set at 6.3065 mills. Although 6.4 to 6.3% seems like a reduction, remember it is now set on a higher individual property assessment that grew from $1.6 to 1.8 billion. So, the proposed ‘lower’ millage rate taxes for FY 2017-18 will really add another 3-5% increase to your upcoming tax bill! This will be the third tax increase in three years, with little or no effort demonstrated by county leadership to cut costs or reduce expenses!

What does this all mean?

The 2017-18 gap - which could be better managed to reach what budget ‘wonks’ call the Roll Back Rate - is about $500,000 (less than 1% of spending.) in savings or recoupments. If that 1% was saved by good fiscal management and oversight from the latest proposed $52 million budget, most people would see no tax increase this year.

But sadly, there has been no direction to staff to help find ways to close that gap. To the watchdog CCFC, that is the definition of unconscionable. If commissioners don’t even attempt to find any savings, we will face another tax increase as in the last three years. 3-5 percent may not sound like a lot but that is cumulative, compounding each and every year. Such reckless and negligent fiscal management is calculated to raise as much money as possible while passing-the-expenses buck to the taxpayers, who will be expected to pay up compliantly, yet again. The county is relatively prosperous now, with no emergencies forecast on the horizon (except maybe for Weems Hospital or potential hurricane hit.) Now is the time to rein in spending.

It’s their money to spend, but it is yours to pay! Let’s ask them to manage OUR monies better, as most of us have to do in our own households.

To see suggestions we believe commissioners and elected officials can accomplish potential reductions in spending, please go the CCFC’s website at ABetterFranklin.com/savings and take a thoughtful look. Between now and Budget Adoption Hearings in September, we hope to encourage real fiscal accountability by our elected leaders. If you agree with us that savings must be identified and maintained to hold taxes stable without UNNECEESSARY increases, tell your Commissioner to work for the Rollback rate. (By the way, we hear the School Board will also be delivering a millage rate increase to further increase those taxes. Demand fiscal responsibility from your School Board representative as well!)

Accept nothing less. Again, it’s YOUR money!

We invite you to join the Concerned Citizens of Franklin County, Inc. to add your voice of support to our watchdog group. Only with citizen numbers in attendance at annual budget hearings – and regular commission meetings - will we have the most positive effect on our commissioners and constitutional officers. Good government only happens in the sunshine. Shine a little bit of your own light to encourage local government to be fiscally accountable to the taxpayers they serve. By your presence and interest, you will let them know we are watching their choices and actions on behalf of all of Franklin County!

The first Budget Adoption Hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, September 5th at 5:15 in the new Courthouse Annex. These hearings typically don’t last a long time but your presence and your personal demand for the rollback rate at this hearing is very important. If it is just me sitting alone in the audience, Commissioners take the cue that you don’t mind having your taxes hiked.

I hope you do mind.

Regards,
Allan Feifer
President
Concerned Citizens of Franklin County