Live Oak —
A few months ago, you might have met me. I was at the Suwannee County Fairgrounds encouraging people to sign a petition. The purpose of the petition was to get the Board of County Commissioners to vote “yes” in favor of bringing an unknown company into Suwannee County that would create new jobs. The reason the company was unknown was because they required confidentiality as one of the negotiating points.
Now we know who and what. The company is called Klausner Lumber One, LLC, and their home office is in Austria, with satellite offices in India and China. Klausner wants the county to purchase and give to them free of charge, two tracts of land west of Live Oak on Highway 90, consisting of 120 acres for their facility and another 55 acres to use as a buffer zone, at a cost of $1.1 million to the county. Then, Klausner wants the county to prepare the property for their use, a site prep cost at $2.2 million to you, the taxpayer. This brings your share to $3,300,000.
They’ve also negotiated more of your tax dollars from the State. Not much, just $12,096,000. Their representative calls this grant money. But isn’t grant money still money that originated from taxpayers? They’re also expecting an additional $60,000,000 in grants or bond funds from the State. This $60,000,000 will be used by Klausner for planning, designing, constructing and importing equipment for the facility. The State will also grant Klausner $1,260,000 to train their employees. It’s all in their contract to the county! The State, at our expense, will four lane US 90 to 169th Street, 169th Street will be reconstructed with wider lanes, and a new three-lane road approximately a half mile long will be built between the new facility and 169th Street. All roads thereafter will be maintained by the State and the county (again, YOU). These roads on peak days will carry 1,360 trucks. Can you imagine living out Highway 90 close to the noise or even traveling out Highway 90? Stand by any highway and try to count 1,300 vehicles.
If all that isn’t enough, read Article IV, Section 4.2, page 6. It states that the company expects that it will receive, upon filing a proper application, a 100% abatement of all ad-valorem (property) taxes on the project for a period of ten years.
When Klausner made their initial presentation to the Board of Commissioners, it looked really good. The main reason to do the deal was to create jobs for Suwannee County. They promised 350 jobs at an average salary of $30,000, a minimum of $14 per hour plus a $9,900 benefits package which included 100% company-paid health care. Read the latest contract on Page 4, Section 2.1. The company expects to create full-time jobs and anticipates that wages for their workforce will average not less than $14 per hour. The company plans to provide health benefits with employees sharing 50% of the cost. So where are the 100% health care and the $9,900 benefit package. Read this paragraph again. This is called a “bait and switch.”
This brings up another point. In reading the contract where it applies to the county, most references will say “the county will” or “the county shall.” When referring to the Klausner company, most references state, “the company expects” or “the company anticipates” or “the company plans to.” These are called LOOPHOLES. In other words, this contract does not include a single commitment, obligation, or agreement by Klausner to create any specific number of jobs or provide any type of benefits to employees. And, there isn’t a penalty provision if they don’t. By contrast, the State has at least created the short-term appearance of an obligation on the part of Klausner. One of the State grant applications requires them to prove the employment of 86 employees at $14.00 per hour for a single payroll. This would satisfy the terms of a grant that yields Klausner $3 million. That’s correct, following a single payroll of 86 employees, the company could then drop back to 60 or fewer minimum-wage employees with no benefit package.
Their representatives have said you must take risks to move forward. I disagree! This is like diving into an empty swimming pool. That’s risky. You don’t have to dive in. No risk. Their representatives say to the commissioners, “You can’t let this get away. You’ll never have this opportunity again.” Please! If you ran an ad offering the equal of a Klausner contract, companies would line up for this ‘golden goose’ deal.
The last contract received on Tuesday after the board meeting was followed up by a message from the Klausner team. The message said, ‘You will sign this contract or give consensus to it on Friday, September 7, with no changes by the county or we are gone.’ An ultimatum? Yes. The board voted to not go forward – no consensus.
When the Commissioners could not reach a consensus, County Administrator Randy Harris suggested that the county forward a message to the company that the inclusion of a firm commitment regarding job creation would make the contract more agreeable. He further noted that language could be borrowed from one of the State agreements which outlined the number of jobs the company is required to create, and penalties for noncompliance. Klausner has actually removed such language in earlier drafts of the contract with the county. If the State can require penalties for noncompliance, why shouldn’t the county? Additionally, Commissioner Fowler suggested that the 10-year tax abatement be removed. These proposals would certainly improve the contract. They do not want the county to have a solid reverter clause, or to establish a lien which corresponds with the term of the agreement; they do not even want to supply the Commissioners with a financial statement proving that they have finances. If you initiate a contract with another party who insists on provisions that protect their interests by forcing you to perform, then what’s the harm in having similar provisions that protect your interests by forcing them to perform? Without clearly-defined commitments from them, how can we justify spending millions of dollars on this venture?
At Friday’s meeting, September 7, one commissioner addressed the audience by saying, “I don’t see any regular, average taxpayers in the room pushing to go forward with this project. I see only members of local groups who all have personal interests in the project.”
On September 18, there will be a FINAL public hearing, which is scheduled for 7:00pm. Plan ahead to be there! You can give up two hours for this important discussion. Don’t let your commissioners down. Believe me, they do want your support and guidance in this matter.
On behalf of the 1962 Suwannee High football team, I would like to thank the Suwannee High Sports Hall of Fame Selection Committee for selecting us to be in their 2012 induction class. We also thank Suwannee High School principal Ted Roush, his administrative secretary Kathy Aukerman and Hunter Abercrombie Suwannee High Athletic Director for their assistance in securing seating for the ’62 team and their guests. Sid Allen did his usual great job with the program on the PA. A special thank you to Raleigh Brown and his staff at the Brown Lantern for allowing us to have our before game reunion and meal there.
We located 22 of the 33 members of the team. Several are deceased and were represented by family members and a few we could not find. Our coach, Gene Cox, is deceased but his widow Mrs. Patsy Cox and several of their children and relatives were here. Coach Larry Ross and Coach Brent Hall were unable to attend. Mr. Everett Williamson our Suwannee County Superintendent of Schools in 1962 was also in attendance.
Many of us had not seen one another for 50 years. It was a joy to be a part of this gathering. All were glad to visit and relive those long ago good times. It is amazing how good we have gotten in 50 years. Memories were brought up again and again as we shared the games, school functions and class activities. I can’t explain what it means to me to be a part of that special group of men. We are all better men as a result of being a member of the ’62 Bulldogs.
George McKnight ’62 Bulldog