The Oconee County Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee got only a handful of questions tonight from the audience of about 30 that turned out to view a presentation justifying the recommendation that the county start planning now to build a judicial facility separate from the existing courthouse.
Included in the audience were a host of elected officials, including the three superior court judges, the probate court judge, the sheriff, Board of Commission Chairman Melvin Davis, Commissioners Chuck Horton and Jim Luke, and a number of county employees.
Sheriff Scott Berry, joined by the judges, argued that the current courthouse is both unsafe and inadequate for current judicial needs.
“There is a fundamental fairness, a fundament dignity that goes with being in the courthouse,” Berry said, and the current crowded facilities threaten those things.
The committee has recommended that the county build the new judicial facility near the current jail on Experiment Station road and renovate the current courthouse for administrative functions at an estimated cost of $20 to $22 million.
The goal, according to the committee presentation, would be to have the project completed in approximately 10 years.
Committee Chairman Abe Abouhamdan began the discussion of the work of the committee tonight before turning to county Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost.
Provost, who served as a resource person for the citizen committee, gave a 19-minute PowerPoint presentation, during which he noted that a number of uncertainties surround the committee proposal.
Among those is the effect of the economy on county resources and decisions now being made by the Board of Commissioners about how to renovate the Government Annex Building on SR 15 south of Watkinsville.
The BOC held a public hearing on Sept. 21 on the Government Annex renovation that ended inconclusively as the commissioners disagreed on the proposals before them.
The Sept. 21 meeting, attended by about 40 persons, was held at the Civic Center, as was the meeting tonight.
George Rodrigues, from Watkinsville and that city’s representative on the county Planning Commission, asked the committee how frequently the courthouse gets crowded as a result of the court dates, since that was mentioned as a justification for the construction of a new facility.
Sheriff Berry said there are times when five courtrooms are being used at once.
Citizen Sarah Bell asked what the committee had learned from other counties that had recently built new courthouse facilities.
She was told that mostly the counties were happy with what they had done.
Citizen Tammy Gilland asked how the other counties had funded the construction of these new facilities. The answer again was varied, with some using sales tax revenues and others leasing the facility from the Association County Commissioners of Georgia.
All but two of the 14-members of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee showed up for the meeting tonight, which lasted an hour.
Chairman Abe Abouhamdan had admonished the committee members at the Sept. 14 meeting for their poor record of attendance during the year and a half that it has been considering the courthouse space issue.
Missing tonight were members Diane Border and Chris Herring, who also missed many of those meetings.
BOC Chairman Davis, Commissioner Horton and Sheriff Berry were among those thanking the committee tonight for its hard work on the courthouse issue.
“I appreciate the work you have done,” Berry said. “I want to thank you for being diligent.”
The complete video of this meeting is now available on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.