Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Oconee County Commissioners Moved Closer to Vacating Building Across from Courthouse

From Annex to Annex

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners tonight took one additional step toward moving offices from the Courthouse Annex across the street from the current courthouse to the Government Annex on SR 15 south of downtown Watkinsville.

County Administrative Officer Alan Theriault told the Board that the county needed to tell the United States Department of Agriculture and Athens Technical College that it no longer would rent the two organizations space in the Government Annex if the county intended to go forward with its plans for the move.

While no formal vote was taken, no one on the Board spoke against Theriault’s proposal. He said he would notify the U.S.D.A that the county wished to withdraw a recently submitted bid for continuation of the rental agreement.

Theriault said Athens Technical College also is considering its options for an extension of its existing agreement and that he would inform the college that county wished it to vacate the Government Annex.

U.S.D.A. uses the space for its Farm Service Agency. Athens Tech uses the space for adult education.

The possibility of moving from the Courthouse Annex, currently the home to Code Enforcement, the Planning Department, and other county departments, was raised by county Finance Director Jeff Benko on May 5 as the Board struggled to find ways to trim costs to meet a $2.4 million gap between projected revenue and requested expenses for the county’s general fund.

At that time, Benko said he thought the move, which could be made at the end of the calendar year, could save the county $41,675 in the upcoming Fiscal Year 2011 and considerably more in future years. The county leases the space it uses in the Courthouse Annex.

When Commission Jim Luke said he felt the estimate was overly optimistic, the figure was dropped to $20,000.

Tonight the amount of savings was dropped to zero for the upcoming fiscal year when the Board discussed further the implications of the move, including the timing and the amount of money that would be required to make it happen.

Theriault said it would cost about $900,000 for architectural services and construction to remodel the space in the Government Annex. That money would be taken from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax fund, which contains about $4.2 million in unspent and unallocated money for county governmental facilities, including the courthouse.

In February the Board voted to spend $170,000 of that money for renovation of the Government Annex to better house the Public Works Department, which already is located there. Theriault said tonight he would put plans for that renovation on hold.

Commissioner Luke again tonight said he thought vacating the Courthouse Annex was a mistake, but he agreed with Commissioner John Daniell, a proponent of the move, in saying that he felt it was worthwhile to go forward with planning.

Luke said he felt a master plan mapping out future county needs for space is needed. He also said that the county should purchase the Courthouse Annex property if it becomes available.

According to county tax records, the property is owned by Ray B. Burruss Jr. of Athens and is assessed at $686,000. The property was owned by Elizabeth Dolvin and is often referred to as the Dolvin property.

The meeting tonight was called as a work session on the county budget, but the Board spent little time discussing budget options.

Benko summarized the outcome of the discussions of May 5. The projected income for the county for the 2011 fiscal year is $19,635,270, he said, and the amount of money requested by department heads and elected officials was $22,067,835.

At the May 5 meeting, he said, the Board tallied up $1,291,285 in cuts to requests. He discussed tonight some relatively small adjustments to the requests that had come in since then.

The Board amended the agenda for tonight's work session to hear from District Attorney Ken Mauldin, who wanted the county to assist him in moving funds around within his office to cover costs of programs he operates and to compensate employees who have been required to take furlough days.

After a lengthy discussion, the Board agreed to put the requests on its agenda for its May 25 meeting.

The Board then went into executive session to discuss a personnel matter, most likely involving the Public Works Department. Public Works Director Emil Beshara remained in the commission chamber when the Board went into executive session and told me he was there to be available in case the Board wanted to talk to him during the executive session.

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