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December 20, 2012

NFBA granted another chance

Live Oak — The Suwannee County Board of County Commissioners granted North Florida Broadband Authority one more chance to provide the information they have been requesting before deciding whether or not to follow other counties and sever ties.

On Tuesday morning prior to the meeting, the Democrat met with NFBA Executive Director Richelle Sucara in Lake City to get answers to questions that some of our readers want to know.
NFBA Senior Project Manager Donny Lort then attended the commission meeting to answer any questions the board had.  
To receive the $30 million in grant money, the NFBA had to match the grant in either 20 percent cash or in assets. The NFBA has spent some time asking local anchor institutions to offer an in-kind asset allowing them to place their equipment on a tower or building. Sucara said that the team met their goal four months ago and surpassed their goal of in-kind assets according to grant requirements.

According to the Interlocal Agreement between NFBA and the county, Section 4.02 says that an annual budget, including expenditures, would be “made at least once a year, within 180 days of the end of the fiscal year, a report of the Authority facilities, including all matters relating to expansions, acquisitions, rates, revenues, expenses, principal and interest requirements of the obligations and the status of all funds and accounts.”

When asked for a copy of the current operating budget, Sucara told the Democrat there wasn’t one since they were still operating off of grant money. In January, Sucara said she will be presenting a budget to the board that will be based on revenue alone.

According to Sucara, the NFBA is not obligated to report anything to participating governments. She said that the board members that represent their community is responsible for communicating with local authorities.

Suwannee County’s representative and board member, Sherry Millington, said at Tuesday’s county commission meeting that she used to communicate with former County Administrator Joe Gerrity, but said she didn’t feel the need to continue after he left.

Sucara admitted there is a lack of communication between the NFBA and the commissioners. 
County Administrator Randy Harris and board members addressed their questions and concerns to Lort about the money, miscommunication and misinformation.

“Was the money spent wisely? Where did the money go?” Harris asked.

Sucara said that just over $3 million is left of the $30 million with only 43 days left in the grant period, but gave no indication of where the money went or how it was spent.

Lort said that rate studies are made available on the NFBA website and that Millington has copies of the minutes from every meeting. Millington confirmed she did have copies, and she welcomed the commissioners to go through the several boxes and review the minutes.

“I’m not interested in boxes of minutes,” Harris stated. “Do you have adopted budgets and a list of expenditures that are addressed in the contract?”

Chairman Wesley Wainwright said the NFBA has expended millions in the past couple of years, and there’s “not a lot to show for it.”

“For me, it does center on how the finances have been conducted,” Wainwright said. “When we asked for the information two weeks ago, we still haven’t gotten it.”

Commissioner Phil Oxendine asked Lort for the documents that were requested at the last board meeting, specifically showing where the money has gone. Lort said he was unaware of the request.

“The NFBA is aware there is miscommunication, they can turn this into an opportunity,” Harris said.

Sucara confirmed that her salary with the NFBA is public record and that she makes $150,00 per year.

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