The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley


The Times 

Very Disappointed in our Columbia County Commissioners

 

September 30, 2021



I am writing this letter out of concern for the financial health of Columbia County and the poor spending decisions that the County Commissioners have let happen. Here are a few examples of such decisions that affect our County.

Columbia County Commissioners approved a new black 2021 Dodge Ram 3500 for the County E911 Director/Emergency Manager. This department already had a Pickup to use.  To try and understand the process I submitted several public record requests; the following information is what I have received so far:

A 2021 Dodge Ram 3500 was purchased for $70,589.88. Registration: $6,202.57 and with all the extra equipment that was purchased to date iThe total s over $118,000.000

The vehicle was purchased using ERR funds through the County Public Works; ERR is then reimbursed monthly from E911/Emergency Management Department grant. That is a large sum to spend on a vehicle for his personal use and back and forth to work.

For comparison, I also asked for vehicle purchase information on the last Columbia County Patrol vehicle. The response; Base price $37,434.00, extra equipment and licensing, $21,040.55. Total of $58,474.55. Our Sheriff could have purchased two vehicles for the price used to purchase the Dodge Ram 3500. Patrol vehicles are essential; a brand-new emergency management vehicle is not.

Another records request was to determine who permitted Mr. Strickland to drive the county-owned vehicle for personal use? The contract stated they will provide a pickup and cell phone; it does not say “to drive for personal use.” I requested the meeting minutes that allowed Mr. Strickland to use the vehicle for personal use. The response stated, “They can’t find any specific minutes where the decision was made”.

I also requested, “How many times in 2020 and 2021 did Mr. Strickland respond to any emergencies? Mr. Strickland responded that “he does not keep those types of records”. Wouldn’t a record of his work-related responses help to show justification for the new pickup?

I also asked for price of gas we the taxpayers have paid for the two vehicles he used in 2020 and 2021, the amount was $2,514.79 with total miles driven of 11,205. He lives 11 miles from work. So how many of those miles were work-related, and how many were personal? Mr. Strickland responded that “he does not keep that type of record”. Why are records not kept? Using a county-owned vehicle for personal use is considered a fringe benefit to an employee. 

The Prosecuting Attorney sent a Memorandum that was forwarded to me stating that driving a county vehicle for personal use would be a fringe benefit. Therefore, it was legal for them to have made that decision. Are Fringe benefits taxable? That is a question that would have to be answered by a state auditor or the IRS.

The purchase of this pickup, allowed by our Columbia County Commissioners, should have never happened, we have all been told our County does not have extra money. When the public reads this, I hope more people will feel outraged over this purchase and start questioning just how your money is spent. $118,000.00 could have gone a long way to improving the dispatcher’s environment (it is a very small work area) or paying for the new radio system promised to Columbia County residents.

Grants are not free money; they are paid by each person that pays taxes. I am very concerned about this significant expense. Was the vehicle even necessary? I think not.

Please don’t think that I am a disgruntled employee. I was a full and part-time 911 Dispatcher and the Dispatch Supervisor since 1993. I also filled in as Director until Mr. Strickland arrived in 2019. I retired at 70, and I loved my job.

My point is, we all need to look at Columbia County’s budget each year. Attend the commissioner’s meetings; voice your concerns and keep informed about what is happening in our County. We need to vote for Commissioners that have the community in their best interest and use our money to benefit the most people and not just a few. I know I am guilty of not being more involved, but I plan on being there when the budgets are made and look at them to ensure the money is spent wisely.

Thank you.

Barbara Phinney

 

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