Friday, March 27, 2009

Oconee BOC To Discuss Courthouse Tuesday

What To Do With $4.2 Million

With the successful Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax vote behind it, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners is scheduled Tuesday night to turn its attention to spending about $4.2 million in unallocated funds from the current SPLOST.

The ninth item on the agenda for the meeting of the BOC on Tuesday night is discussion of a request for proposals for "architectural consulting services for county judicial and governmental administrative facilities."

That is code language for the courthouse.

Chairman Melvin Davis called a secret meeting of 16 elected and appointed officials in the county for Dec. 17 to discuss what is to be done about the courthouse. The meeting did not become public until Feb. 5, when a story on the meeting appeared in The Oconee Enterprise.

The courthouse has been the center of controversy for much of the last year and was an issue during the summer elections. Sheriff Scott Berry has said that the courthouse is difficult to secure given the current requirements for courtroom safety.

The county will have to decide to expand the courthouse at its current site, move the courthouse to another site, or divide courthouse functions and move some of those functions from the current site.

The current 2004 SPLOST contains $4.6 million for "county facilities." As of Dec. 31, 2008, $4.2 of that amount had not been allocated. The current SPLOST expires at the end of this year, making some decision on how to commit the unspent money necessary.

The unallocated funds and the courthouse were not discussed publicly by the county in the runup to the SPLOST vote on March 17, when voters overwhelmingly approved a new 1 cent on the dollar sales tax. No new money for a courthouse is included in the just-approved SPLOST.

A hint that the courthouse issue was about to appear again soon was in the Enterprise edition on Thursday. The paper contained a story about property on North Main Street in Watkinsville that, according to the report, has been identified as a site for a new county facility.

Enterprise Publisher Vinnie Williams then touted the site as a good one for a judicial center in her column on the editorial page of the paper.

The paper often serves as a sounding board of county proposals.

County Clerk Gina Davis released the agenda about 3:15 p.m. today. Lindsey reports to Davis, who controls the agenda of BOC meetings.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the courthouse. Other agenda items include discussion of Freeman Creek Bridge replacement options, a liquor license request for Cactus Café, an update on the Bear Creek recreational project, and an appointment to the Hard Labor Creek management board.

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