Thursday, October 01, 2009

Oconee BOC Agrees to Study Economic Development, Ethics

Water for Walton

In response to items put on the agenda by Commissioner John Daniell, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night agreed to schedule a work session on how to proceed with plans to promote economic development in the county and to create a committee to study and develop a code of ethics for the county.

In addition, the board reviewed two solicitation ordinances drafted by County Attorney Daniel Haygood and decided to reject an ordinance banning solicitation on county roadways and move forward with a plan to restrict such solicitation.

The board agreed preliminarily to issue a request for proposals for utility relocation design for the widening of Mars Hill road from SR 316 to Hog Mountain road in Butler’s Crossing, accept a bid for utility relocation for the Oconee Connector Extension now under construction, and proceed with a plan to upgrade one of the county’s water wells and continue selling water to Walton County.

The agenda-setting meeting lasted about two and a half hours, ending about 9:30 p.m.

The Athens Banner-Herald provided a detailed report on the solicitation ordinance inside today’s paper.

The Oconee Enterprise also had a story today about the solicitation ordinance, though it did not indicate what action the board had taken.

The Enterprise also contained a very confusing story about the ethics and development initiatives of Daniell under the headline "Daniell pushes ethics on BOC."

Daniell, who joined the board in January, said he has been trying to understand what the county is doing to promote economic development.

He mentioned as one of those activities the work of the Oconee Athens-Clarke Joint Economic Task Force, a panel of community and business leaders that recommended in May of 2008 that the two counties work together on development. Discussions of such a collaboration have stalled.

"I kind of want to kick around and see where everybody wants to head," Daniell said. "I’d like to see us start moving in a direction to address some of these issues and put some things on the radar screen that we could attract some good companies to the area."

Following Daniell’s comments, Ed Perkins, chairman of that Task Force, came forward and urged the board to move on the recommendation that the counties work together on development.

He was followed by Chuck Williams, a member of the task force and chairman of the Oconee County Development Authority, who also recommended a collaborative strategy.

Mike Lewis, the chairman of the Oconee Chamber of Commerce, next came to the podium and made the same argument. "A regional approach is the right approach," he said.

The board agreed to schedule a work session to continue discussion on the topic.

Daniell next recommended that the board appoint a committee made up of citizens and members of the commission to look at existing ethics codes and then "make some real strong statements about where we are and how we do business here in Oconee County."

The board agreed to follow its normal procedures of advertising for citizen participants and then creating such an ethics committee.

Haygood told the board that he had two proposed ordinances regarding solicitation in county roadways. He said the county could reject the activity entirely, or it could restrict it.

Daniell said he was comfortable with banning the activity, but the other commissioners were not.
Haygood discussed in detail an ordinance that would require groups to pay $100 for a permit, which would be granted only to charitable organizations that passed a background check.

Under the proposed ordinance, solicitation would be restricted by time of day, solicitors would be required to wear reflective vests, and a designated person would have to be at the solicitation site.

Haygood was instructed to fine-tune the ordinance and bring it back to the board for future action, possibly as early as the Oct. 27 meeting.

The board decided to put on its agenda for its Oct. 6 meeting a vote to issue a request for proposals for the design of utility relocations for the Mars Hill Road widening project. Emil Beshara, county public works director, estimated that the contract will cost between $40,000 and $80,000.

The county expects to begin right of way acquisition for the roadway in about five months and take about two years to complete the process. So far, the state has not found the $19 million for actual construction of the road.

Chris Thomas, Utility Department director, presented the board with a bid by Gary’s Grading and Pipeline to do utility relocation work for the Oconee Connector Extension, also called the Jennings Mill Parkway.

The roadway, now under construction, will form a loop from SR 316 at the current Oconee Connector back to Epps Bridge Parkway near Lowe’s and is designed to open up land for commercial development.

The bid was for $489,558. The county will use unspent Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue to pay for the work.

That item also will be voted on at the Oct. 6 meeting.

Thomas also asked the board to allow him to get bids for an upgrade to an existing groundwater well on Hillcrest drive between Watkinsville and the Civic Center so the county can produce a higher quality water from the well.

The county at present is selling about 500,000 gallons per day of water from its wells to Walton and wants to continue to do so to generate revenue for the Utility Department. The upgrade will help make that possible.

Thomas said he expects the bids to come in around $300,000 and that he had that amount of money in unspent SPLOST funds in his budget that can be used for this project.

Final action on this request also is set for the Oct. 6 meeting.

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