Local News

Who earned the most from Highlands County’s checkbook?

— David Flowers sees the electric bills for all of the 43 buildings he maintains.
“The Government Center is $14,000 to $15,000 a month by itself,” said Flowers, Highlands County’s facilities manager. The two-story building on Commerce Street houses the county commissioners, the tax collector, the supervisor of elections, the clerk of courts and the property appraiser.
Last year, taxpayers forked over $122 million to Highlands County in property taxes, gasoline taxes, sales taxes, user fees, solid waste fees, garage sale licenses, and the occasional fine.
That revenue paid Highlands County’s bills in fiscal year 2012-13, and the bulk of it went to about 500 companies. The top five businesses: $3.2 million to Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Florida, $2.7 million to Taylor Oil Co. of Avon Park, $2.3 million to Choice Environmental Services, $1.2 million to Duke Energy, and $1.2 million to North Carolina insurance company, Risk Management Associates, according to Clerk of Courts Bob Germaine, who writes checks for the county’s bills.
Utility bills alone totaled more than $2 million: $1.2 million to Duke, $118,390 to Glades Electric Cooperative, $615,070 for the CenturyLink telephone bill, and Embarq Florida called for another $226,861.
Duke generates most of Highlands County’s power, Flowers said, and Glades Co-op reaches the county’s rural southern and eastern portions: the Lorida community center, the fire departments on C.R. 621, county buildings around Lake Placid, road and bridge barns, and a few lighted boat ramps.
Taylor Oil, the top local vendor, delivers gasoline and diesel to Avon Park, Sebring and Lake Placid. Three fuel stations are used by school buses, sheriff’s deputies, the library co-op, the Avon Park Housing Authority, four constitutional officers and dozens of city and county entities.
A list of last year’s checks include $25.6 million to Highlands County Sheriff’s Office, $3.4 million to the Clerk of Courts, $98,728 to Highlands County Tax Collector Eric Zwayer, another $96,525 to the clerk of courts criminal division.
“Some of that is a wash,” said Jerome Kaszubowski, senior director of business services, for the clerk’s office. After attorneys or bail bondsmen post cash bonds, then settle the court case, the bond is refunded.
More than $2 million was paid for roads and sidewalks.
Highlands County paid $1 million to Associated Asphalt of Tampa for raw materials. “They sell us liquid asphalt, the binder we use at the asphalt plant,” said Road and Bridge Supervisor Kyle Green. Florida Dirt Source of Naples billed $536,243 for aggregate, gravel that sticks to the black tar.
Lynch Paving & Construction was paid $486,596; Tucker Paving collected $140,535. In part, Lynch completed several sidewalk projects; Tucker built a guardrail in Avon Park.
LibertyStar broke the Top 50 with $137,063 to house the sheriff’s department’s investigative division in the shopping plaza on U.S. 27, south of Sebring. That bill will go away when the new sheriff’s office is built.
Money was moved to municipal, district and state governments: Florida Agency for Healthcare Administration, $844,178; Highlands County Industrial Development Authority, $215,580; Central Florida Regional Planning Council, $184,085; City of Sebring, $58,228; Avon Park, $28,846.
Smaller amounts: $10,041 to Florida Department of Law Enforcement, $9,210 to State of Florida, $4,921 to Sebring Police Department, $4,187 to Lake Placid Police Department, $3,440 to Miami-Dade Police Department, $1,046 to Lake County Sheriff’s Office, $1,007 to Florida Department of Corrections.
“We collect traffic and civil and criminal fines and fees for many agencies,” Kaszubowski said. A traffic fine, for instance, is split among the issuing law enforcement agency and state agencies. “The state gets the bulk of the money.”
Software and computer companies run the technology that runs the governments: $218,299 to Advanced Data Processing, $145,059 to SunGard for EMS billings, $87,678 to VMWare Inc., $73,338 to Xerox for copier rentals, $70,937 to Dell for computers, $53,528 to World Data Products Inc., $46,940 to Harris Local Government Solutions, $45,550 to 3M, and $14,926 to Granicus, whose software videos and stores county commission meetings.
Two fire equipment dealers received big checks: $469,468 to Hall-Mark Fire Apparatus of Ocala for a fire engine, and $151,720 to Ten-8 Fire Equipment of Brandenton. Heavy Equipment dealer GS Equipment of Tampa broke the Top 50 with $316,413 check.
Finally, to keep that money safe, $38,687 was hauled away by Loomis Armored Car U.S.