Live Oak —
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Harry C. Gray III. After serving honorably more than 26 years in the Air Force I retired as a senior master sergeant, E-8; bought my first parcel of land in Suwannee County 33 years ago and moved here. I farmed trees, got my AA degree from Lake City Community College, graduated from nursing school cum laude and worked on the surgical ward at the Lake City V.A. Medical Center as a nurse. Suwannee County has been good for me. I made more money selling real estate in one month that I made in 26 years in the Air Force. I love Live Oak and Suwannee County and this is why Mr. Snowden’s letter inspired me to speak out against singing the proposed agreement at the public hearing, Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2012.
After I read Mr. Wendell Snowden’s letter to the editor published in the Suwannee Democrat Friday, Sept. 14, 2012, I got all fired up. I took Randy Harris, the county administrator’s offer to give anyone who wanted a copy of the “Development Agreement by and among Klausner Lumber One, LLC (Klausner) and Suwannee County, Florida” to any one who wanted one. I read the agreement and much of what Mr. Snowden wrote in his letter to the editor were in the agreement. We all owe Mr. Snowden a big thank you for researching the agreement and brining it to the publics attention. However, it was too late for the county board of commissioners had already made up their minds before the pubic hearing, in my opinion, as they have done before with the non ad valorem tax hearing. So, the public hearing was, in my opinion, just a formality possibly to give the agreement more legality.
The public (the taxpayers) were “kept in the dark” about the agreement because Klausner required confidentiality. After reading the agreement I can understand why. At first the project was called “Project Christmas”. I think it is an appropriate name for Suwannee County and the state of Florida are playing Santa Claus and giving Klausner just about everything they demanded. That is, clear title to land the county paid one and a half million for; clear the land to their specification, provide water, sewage and a railroad spur. No one has a total figure for all this and what Suwannee County will end up paying.
Throughout the agreement, I found six names for Klausner. It is like they could not decide what to call themselves. The agreement shows two different presidents, one living in Myrtle Beach and another one living in Atlanta, Georgia. The agreement is filled with whereas, desires, deemed, wishes, expects, anticipates and plans. I could not find one concrete thing Klausner was going to do for the taxpayers of this county. The “carrot” was that their “goals are that it will make an investment of approximately $130 million and reasonably expects to have a total employment of approximately 350 at full operation,” or is that 86 jobs paying $14 per hour. Klausner, whose home base is Austria, has not shown that they have one million let along 130. But, with clear title to the land we buy them and a lot of promises they can go out and borrow the money to build their sawmill. If they pull this off everyone will be happy, but if they flop guess who is second lien holder? That’s right, Suwannee County. There is virtually no concrete protection for Suwannee County in this agreement. What is amazing to me is that there were lawyers at the Sept. 18 public hearing that advocated the commissioners sign this agreement, as is, saying they would be remembered for this decision.
There were a lot of people at the Sept. 18 public hearing, even kids carrying signs something like “vote for jobs”. But, as one commissioner is quoted as having said, “I don’t see any regular, average taxpayer in the room pushing to go forward with this project. I see only members of local groups who all have a personal interest in this project.”
Do we want our kids to have to move out after graduation because there are no jobs in Suwannee County? Of course not! Do we need quality jobs? Of course!
We are all going to have to do a lot of praying about this for this agreement does not give the county any protection.
This agreement, as written, gives no assurances there will be good jobs nor does it offer protection to the citizen taxpayers whose interest is supposed to be protected by our elected officials.
I do not intend to attend another public hearing for I believe nothing said at these hearings is going to have anything to do with the way the official will vote. As a responsible citizen, I will keep informed as much as possible and let my voice be heard at the voting poles.
Harry C. Gray III
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