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Setting your hair on fire with money

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By Lou Elliott Jones

County budget time is my least favorite time of year. 

But then again, there's nothing like watching folks who don't want to risk their political future by raising revenues, but who still want to tell the voters they preserved all the services.

So now we must be creative in cutting the budget.  

One of the more interesting exercises came at the Aug. 16 commission meeting when Levy County Fire Rescue No. 78 Chief Rick Bloom stepped to the podium. His unit covers Morriston, Montborook, Gulf Hammock and more.

He asked for permission to spend $45,988 for a new rescue truck. It would replace a 1991 truck that has over 200,000 miles on it and was a hand-me-down from Marion County.

Bloom used the Florida Sheriff's Association contract bid to price the truck and found one at Duval Ford, in Jacksonville. 

While the commission said it preferred putting the truck out to bid and including local dealers in the bidding, there was something else that troubled some commissioners.

Bloom really did not want to spend the $84,499 in the line item for equipment.

"The money we haven't used is rolled into the equipment fund," Bloom said. "I'm trying to save up to replace a fire engine."

So why does a guy who wants a fire engine want to blow some of his hard-earned savings on a rescue truck?

That's because some other fire companies supported by the county didn't want to take a cut while Bloom's equipment money  was preserved untouched.

"Excuse me for being frugal," Bloom said.

Bloom explained that if he spent some of his equipment savings then his budget would be reduced enough that it would look like a budget cut. Bloom's equipment line item shows up with his operating expenses on the county fire budget right along with the money handed over to other units and municipal units.

"We have to do something with that line item," said Commissioner Marsha Drew of Yankeetown (R-District 3), the commission's budget liaison to the County Fire Advisory Board. 

"We have to have Rick spend it."

"Why aren't we questioning the municipalities? Are they doing the same thing?" Commission Chair Danny Stevens of Williston (D-District 5) said.

"There are departments out there that put money aside," Drew said. "Somehow it doesn't show up in their accounting."

She went on, "If we don't spend the money we're going to have to take that money out of other budgets."

Commissioner Chad Johnson of Chiefland (R-District 2) was shaking his head. "What does spending $47,000 today keep us from spending in the next year?"

Commissioner Ryan Bell of Chiefland (R-District 4) was there with Johnson. "This is not logical. ... This is crazy."

"It's been insane," Drew said of the fire board discussions.

Deputy Clerk Sheila Rees who handles the commission's finances said,“It looks like they just want Rick to reduce his budget and spend it."

"We need to figure out a better way than to force you to do this," Bell said.

But in the end, the commission went along with it. 

They voted unanimously to allow Bloom to seek bids for a new rescue truck.

What's up in the air is whether the county will go through with this spending plan at a future meeting.

Lou Elliott Jones is the editor of the Cedar Key Beacon and Chiefland Citizen. She can be contacted at 352-493-4796 or at editor@cedarkeybeacon.com.