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Answers to 'tough' questions

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Supplemental questions for county commission candidates

Because there was not enough time to ask all the questions submitted by the public at a recent candidates forum hosted by the VFW Post 5625 in partnership with the Chiefland Citizen, the "leftover" questions were emailed to all the county candidates to get a written response. 

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Only three chose to respond. 

 

County Commissioner Candidate Ryan Bell

1) What are you going to do about EMS sending money to Lewisville, S.C. ? And how much do they keep out of all EMS money?

I assume that this is in reference to the private collection agency that the county has hired to assist us in the uncollected debts, that we incur from EMS services throughout the county. So in short the answer is we are not sending money to Lewisville, SC. We have enlisted their services to collect the “bad debt” on our behalf and remit the payment to us (less their collection commission).

Their commission structure is as follows:

4.3% of Net Collections, excluding Medicaid billing at $6.00 per claim.

Net Collections shall mean all cash and check amounts including electronic fund transfers (EFT's) received by EMSIMC from payers, patients, attorney's offices, court settlements, collection agencies, government institutions, group health insurance plans, private payments, credit cards, healthcare facilities or any person or entity submitting funds on a patient's account, OR any amounts paid directly to the client with or without the knowledge of EMSIMC that are paid, tendered, received or collected each month for client's transports, less refunds processed or any other necessary adjustments to those amounts.  

The information below will terminate after the computer equipment paid off.

In addition to the fees set forth above, client (Levy County) shall pay to EMSIMC a computer equipment fee of 1.7% of net collections per month. This fee will become an additional line item on the monthly invoice and will be under the same terms and conditions of Section 3 of this Agreement.

2) Should assessments be put on the ballot?

I do not feel as though the assessments should be put on the ballot. As this is a function of government to pay for services. Whatever the funding differences between the Assessment and the actual expense is. Must be balanced by the General Fund. So if the special assessments were to be on the ballot, then the millage change (logically) should be placed there as well. This is not a feasible option for a functioning government. We the people, must vote for our best representative in this area of government, this is not a majority rule decision, it is a function of government decision since it is tied directly to public safety. Since we as a community and government have a responsibility to the safety of the public.

3) Are more tax raises (in store) for the over taxed residents?

My personal position has always been a conservative one. Since I have been in office we as a board have increased the tax rate, however the total dollars collected have been the same or less, every year (this fluctuation is based on the ever changing property values). This year, since we have made some cuts and reforms, we had a “real” tax cut, in percentage and dollars. This was a great accomplishment due to increasing costs throughout the county. Increases in fuel, labor, state retirement requirements, insurance rates, etc. Our personnel has worked hard with the board to continue to work more efficiently and get a handle on unnecessary expenses. The special assessment program was developed to make more equality for funding of necessary services and not to tax the 45% of the citizens that pay the majority of all taxes throughout the county. So in short, I have worked diligently to remedy over and unequal taxation, and I will continue to make taxes as low as possible and as equitable as possible while still operating an effective government.

4) What are the best uses for the $2.5 million of sales tax revenue? Do you believe the revenue is spent wisely?

Currently the revenues accrue and are used to pay down the bond fund. We also use some of the monies as a reserve fund, since we do not have a large line item for a natural disaster. Additionally, every so often we have to use some of these dollars to help balance the general fund. So, yes since the county has been conservative with these funds and has done their best to save and not use these funds, except to reduce a possible taxable impact to our citizens, I think we are spending it as wisely as possible.

5) What can the county do to eliminate the impasse between Levy County and Chiefland concerning ALS?

This Question does not warrant a response from me at this time, due to the fact that the county is not at an impasse with the city. In any organization we typically face the negative personality of a person or persons, who would love to sensationalize to the tabloid-type county media in efforts to dramatize issues publically for attention. I can assure you as the Chairman of the Board of Levy County, I have personally had a number of conversations with the Mayor of Chiefland, the Vice Mayor of Chiefland and the City Manager and to the best of my knowledge, we are all working diligently to gain a positive solution to help our citizens.

Impasse – noun- a situation in which no progress is possible, especially because of disagreement; a deadlock

I see that we are working for a positive outcome, appears to me that this contradicts the definition.

6) Shell Mound Road and Fowlers Road toward that park — the road needs serious help, i.e. re-paved. What will you do?

Fowlers Bluff road was recently resurfaced, and we have Shell Mound already scheduled for grant-funded project to be completed in late 2015. This project was started over two years ago by myself and Levy County Road Department Administrator Bruce Greenlee.

7) Do you support Chiefland’s request to establish an Advanced Life Support unit at Chiefland Fire Rescue? Yes or No. Please explain your answer.

This question keeps arising and has been stated that the current board has danced around answering it by a local tabloid type publication. My answer is still the same as it has been:

Yes, conceptually, with confirmation of the proposed project.

I cannot see a down side to improved public safety and faster service to our citizens. However, the fiscal responsibly and the sustainability of the program is of concern to me. I was elected to make sure that the level of service is set at a high standard and is perpetual. If we operate on the premise that this is a “free service” we will have no service. We have a responsibility to the public to know what we are obligating ourselves for financially. We have to weigh and measure the absolute best care possible that we can afford while not over taxing our citizens to fund it. This is why we are still in the research phase with the City of Chiefland. We think we have it worked out but I cannot endorse it until the final numbers are in.

8) What can the state or Congress do to help Levy County and Chiefland eliminate the impasse of the ALS issue?

This Question does not warrant a response from me at this time, due to the fact that the county is not at an impasse with the city. In any organization we typically face the negative personality of a person or persons, who would love to sensationalize to the (tabloid type county media) in efforts to dramatize issues publically for attention. I can assure you as the Chairman of the Board of Levy County, I have personally had a number of conversations with the Mayor of Chiefland, the Vice Mayor of Chiefland and the City Manager and to the best of my knowledge, we are all working diligently to gain a positive solution to help our citizens.

Impasse – noun- a situation in which no progress is possible, especially because of disagreement; a deadlock

I see that we are working for a positive outcome, appears to me that this contradicts the definition.

9) Our water supply is my concern. Is there anything being done to conserve our water?

Our county forefathers have an ordinance on the books in Levy County to prohibit the removal, transportation or sale of our water resources. Additionally, we as a board work closely with the water management boards to ensure the protection of the quality and sustainability of our water and other resources throughout our county for our citizens.

County Commission Candidate Jamie Griffin

1) What are you going to do about EMS sending money to Lewisville, S.C.? And how much do they keep out of all EMS money?

After discussions with the county office, the county pays 4.3 percent to the billing company who bills for the EMS services.

I would certainly like to take a deeper look at the total amount retained by the billing company per year and see if we could possibly bring some new jobs to Levy County by adding a billing (and collections) department to the EMS.

2) Should assessments be put on the ballot?

Because the commissioners are elected by the citizens of Levy County to represent them with certain administrative decisions like this, I tend to think that the commissioners would have more knowledge about the details of assessments -vs- raising ad valorem rates so I think everyone would be best represented by the commissioners decision.

3) Are more tax raises (in store) for the over taxed residents?

Tax rate hikes will NOT receive my vote, period!

4) What are the best uses for the $2.5 million of sales tax revenue? Do you believe the revenue is spent wisely?

I believe the additional 1 percent that Levy County charges should be used to pay the long term debt.

I believe the long term debt should become short term debt and paid off as soon as possible.

THEN, I believe the extra 1 percent sales tax should be canceled and these monies returned to the citizens to enjoy.

5) What can the county do to eliminate the impasse between Levy County and Chiefland concerning ALS?

I believe that it is time for the county to form a partnership with the towns and citys on the ALS issue. The county is already well aware of the program and can use its expertise to help the cities gain an Advanced Life Support program if they so desire.

6) Shell Mound Road and Fowlers Road toward that park — the road needs serious help, i.e. re-paved. What will you do?

I believe it is time to take on these much needed road projects and get a lot of much needed road paving done in the county.

We have an excellent staff and management at the road department, we just need to start rolling out these road projects again.

7) Do you support Chiefland’s request to establish an Advanced Life Support unit at Chiefland Fire Rescue? Yes or No. Please explain your answer.

Yes. Chiefland has been in the fire and rescue business a long time and it is time for the county to work with them to help them achieve what they have determined to be a very important project. The county has the expertise to lend a strong helping hand to the City of Chiefland and I think this Advanced Life Support proposal would be an excellent way to better the relations between the county and municipalities.

8) What can the state or Congress do to help Levy County and Chiefland eliminate the impasse of the ALS issue?

I'm not sure that we need their intervention yet. However, I am sure that there is some grant funding available for such and project and MY expertise is finding grants available and being persistent until we receive the funding.

9) Our water supply is my concern. Is there anything being done to conserve our water?

I think that as long as we can keep South Florida away from our precious springs and rivers, we will be fine.

The water management districts do a great job protecting our local water supply.

In addition to the above questions and answers, I would like to add that working together, we can accomplish much. I would also like to

stick my two cents in and say I will also work very hard to bring much needed infrastructure to Levy County such as Hospitals or increased hospital services, college campuses and something very important to me, is some type of program for the youth such as a YMCA or Boys and Girls Club. These topics were not raised in the questioning, but it is part of our near future and I want the very best for Levy County!!

County Commission Candidate Chad Johnson

1. We currently contract with EMS/MC Emergency Medical Services Management and Consultants out of Lewisville, SC to bill and collect for the county. This company specializes in EMS financial management. Through this partnership we have increased collections and decreased our bad debt. We pay 4.3% of net collections excluding Medicaid which is billed at $6.00 per claim. We, as a county, sent out a RFP (Request for Proposal); however, No local companies responded and EMS/MC offered the county a solution to a complex problem. Our goal is to improve efficiencies, streamline cost and provide a quality service.

2. I am not a strong proponent of ballot initiatives. I believe in a Representative Government and allowing our elected officials to reflect and support the will of the people. Ballot initiatives allow facts, figures and truths to be misrepresented and distorted to suit a particular argument. Add to that the monetary campaign of promoting one's position and we often end up with unintended consequences and further challenges. I believe we elect intelligent, educated decision makers, who are objective and focused on representing the constituents and allow them to make the most informed and best decisions they can. If the elected official fails to do this, then I believe we should remove them with the ballot.

3. No, taxes will not increase for the 2014-2015 county budget. The board voted unanimously Tuesday, July 22, to adopt a tentative millage rate of 8.2741 a reduction in taxes. State Law allows county boards to further reduce the millage after the tentative has been set; but they cannot raise them. This year marks the first year since 2007 that the total Assessed Property Value has risen in Levy County. This year the Assessed Value is $1,574,904,619, and will generate $13,090,272 in Ad Valorem taxes. As a comparison, our county property value in 2005 was $1,585,730,956 and we were taxed at 9-mills, generating $14,238,678 in Ad Valorem taxes. I have worked hard to reduce taxes and still deliver the public services the people of Levy County want and need.

4. Levy County generates roughly 2.5 million in sales tax revenue from our one cents sales tax. This money is added to our General Fund monies which include Ad Valorem tax dollars and other revenue sources. Our General Fund is approximately 27.5 million dollars, of this Ad Valorem of 13 million and sales tax revenue of 2.5 million makes up generally 55% of our budget. The General Fund, is responsible for funding departments such as the board, legal, building & zoning, animal control, parks & recreation, as well as constitutional offices and many more. This board has made cuts to reduce spending, improve efficiencies and better serve its citizens. I do believe we are spending wisely, advancing services, and become better managers of county assets. I believe there are opportunities to improve and I believe the Board, our department directors and county employees are working diligently to stretch tax dollars and provide quality services.

5. I think it is important to note that there is no impasse between the County and Chiefland concerning ALS (Advanced Life Support Non-Transit). We are currently working together towards a solution or solutions for increased services and improved medical response. We have had one meeting with both boards present; at that meeting a committee of representatives from all parties was appointed. This committee has met and will meet again on August 6, 2014 to continue to review Chiefland’s plan and continue to move forward. The County Commissioners and the Chiefland council have a strong mutual respect for one another and I believe we can and will work together to bring a well examined and achievable plan.

6. I agree this area does need help. The county has applied for and been approved for a SCOP (Small County Outreach Program) Grant of roughly 1.53 million dollars. It is the county’s goal to widen and resurface as well as possibly conduct bridge work on the Shell Mound Road. Currently we are in the permitting process with most of the engineering being completed. I will continue to monitor the process and assist our staff in any way possible to complete the project.

7. I support adding advanced medical support for the Chiefland area. I have and will continue to push for the best Public Safety for all our citizens possible. In the last few years the County has introduced two ALS non-transport units, assigned two paramedics to the Chiefland EMS Transport Unit on all shifts and developed a capital improvement plan for vehicle and equipment replacement. Through careful planning, budgeting and training we will be able to operate and staff a seventh ambulance this coming budget year. We have and will continue to improve our services to better meet the public safety needs of our citizens.

8. I want to reiterate there is No impasse between the County and Chiefland; furthermore, I am grateful there is nothing the state or Congress can do at this moment short of passing more burdensome legislation. Current State Statue places public safety as a responsibility of the County Commission, all 67 counties are responsible for providing public safety to its citizens. I believe in the strength of local government and believe these two bodies are capable of providing a workable solution for all that will improve our response time and advance our public safety programs. I believe Ronald Reagan said it best when he stated, “The most terrifying words in the English language are: I’m from the government and I’m here to help”.

9. I share your concern for our water supply as well as the quality of our water. I served on FLOW (Florida’s Leaders Organized for Water) which focused on identifying and implementing measures necessary to permanently secure abundant fresh water. Current state law places the state in control of all Florida water and waterways. We are fortunate in Levy County to be well represented on the Suwannee River Water Management District with the chairman being a Levy County businessman and property owner. The SRWM just announced in July a partnership with DEP and USGS to deploy new technology to monitor springs in the SRWM District. I believe we all need to be more engaged in water issues, pushing our legislators to explore all options for improvement, but most importantly, we as individuals should employ water conservation practices at our homes and in our businesses to ensure Florida maintains a viable supply of quality fresh water.