Thursday, September 03, 2009

Oconee County Citizen Committee to Discuss Courthouse

Judicial Slash Administrative

Tucked between two meetings next week that have attracted quite a bit of attention–by U.S. Rep. Paul Broun and by the Oconee County Board of Education–is a meeting of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee that could shed light on the county’s future plans for the Watkinsville courthouse.

County Finance Director Jeff Benko is scheduled to appear before the citizen advisory committee to discuss how any changes in county administrative and court facilities can be financed.

The meeting will start at 7 p.m. in the Community Center at Oconee Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road.

Wayne Provost, director of strategic and long range planning for the county, asked the committee at its Aug. 11 meeting to change the way it discussed the facility under consideration.

“The nomenclature we use for this is courthouse planning,” he said. “I’d like to suggest we start referring to this as judicial slash administrative facilities, because it not necessarily just the court functions that we’re talking about. Right now there is a great deal of administrative stuff in the courthouse.”

Provost indicated the judicial and administrative requirements need to be considered separately.

On June 9, the committee heard from Superior Court Judge Steve Jones, Probate Court Judge David Anglin, Superior Court Clerk Angela Watson, Sheriff Scott Berry, and Tax Commissioner Harriette Browning about their needs for the courthouse.

According to the minutes of the meeting, the discussion focused on new space demands as judicial activities increase, on security requirements associated with the functioning of the courts, and on parking.

The county is sitting on $4.25 million in unspent funds from the 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) that are earmarked for "county facilities." The tax should end in November of this year.

No money for a courthouse–or judicial/administrative facilities--was allocated in the SPLOST approved in March of this year. That tax that will take effect as soon as the current SPLOST ends. That new tax–also one cent on the dollar–will run for six years.

No one has an estimate on how much money the county will need for new facilities, since no one has much of an idea what those facilities might be.

At present, “space is at a premium,” Administrative Officer Alan Theriault told the committee, and he said professional assistance is needed to help project future needs and determine how much adaptation the current courthouse can handle.

Theriault will speak to the Land Use and Transportation Committee at its Oct. 13 meeting more specifically on space needs of the administrative offices of the county.

The BOC referred the issue of the courthouse to the Land Use and Transportation Committee on March 31. The Board asked that the committee initiate a public study on future facility needs and issue a recommendation.

It is a safe bet that each of the other two meetings scheduled in the county next week will outdraw the Tuesday night meeting of the Land Use and Transportation Committee.

Earlier in the day, U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, R-Athens, will host a health care town hall meeting at 10 a.m. in the Oconee County Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road. The meeting starts at 10 a.m., according to the congressman’s web site, but the site does not indicate how long the meeting will last.

At noon on Friday, the Oconee County Board of Education has scheduled an administrative hearing at the Central Office Meeting Room of the administrative building, 34 School Street in Watkinsville.

Superintendent John Jackson has recommended that the Board fire North Oconee High School Principal John Osborne after Osborne spoke out about disparities between the sports facilities of the county’s two high schools.

The Board is scheduled to go into executive session to make its decision.

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