The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority, seeking guidance on what it should do next, spent two hours yesterday afternoon tossing out ideas to members of the Board of Commissioners.
Among the proposals put forward was adding roadways and other infrastructure to the Gateway Park, enticing companies now incubating at the University of Georgia to locate in Oconee County, and getting voters to approve liquor by the drink so the county can develop a convention facility.
Gateway Park, on SR 316 near the Barrow County line and envisioned as a technology park, is a project of the IDA. At present, it is undeveloped.
The commissioners present were less than committal about which projects they favor and what they want the IDA to do.
The ideas the Authority was pitching came for a survey of the members.
Leonard Meyers, acting as facilitator for the meeting, methodically went through the responses, encouraging members to elaborate and commissioners to respond. Meyers said about halfway through the session he was surprised how little comment his presentation was generating.
Those who did speak favored an activist and expansive role of county government in promoting development, consistent with the comments in the survey Meyers was summarizing.
County Attorney Daniel Haygood, who also represents the IDA, said the authority has been in existence since 1962, when it was approved by the citizens of the county under the authority of the state’s constitution.
Haygood said the IDA can receive gifts, it can borrow money, it can make intergovernmental agreements, and it has the powers of private corporations.
This latter power, according to Haygood, means the IDA can do such things as build a building “without having to comply with all the state law that a county would have to comply with.”
“The big one, and this is the one you are all here to really think about and talk about,” said Haygood, “is encourage or promote expansion and development of industrial facilities and commercial facilities in Oconee County to relieve possible unemployment.”
Haygood said the IDA can acquire or build a building and even provide the furnishings and machinery for it.
The IDA also can accumulate funds year to year, he added, and can negotiate tax abatements for businesses seeking to expand or locate in the county.
Haygood introduced Jim Woodward, an attorney at Miller & Martin law firm in Atlanta, who said his speciality is counseling governments on bond sales.
Woodward added “an additional benefit for governments” of the IDA.
“You can borrow money without a voter referendum,” he said.
Haygood said the county can dedicate property taxes to pay for bonds and projects of the Authority.
Commissioner Margaret Hale was unable to attend the meeting, and Commissioner Chuck Horton came in with only about a half hour remaining. He apologized and said he was attending another government meeting.
Commissioners John Daniell and Jim Luke and Commission Chairman Melvin Davis sat through the entire two-hour session.
“We need somebody to come back to us and say here is what you can do in Oconee County,” Daniell said. “If you want this type of business, you’ve got to do this. If you want this type, you’ve got to do that.
“After we have all the options on the table, that is when the Board of Commissioners have got to raise their hands and say, all right, let’s go down this road.”
Commissioner Jim Luke turned to Chairman Davis at one point and said of the IDA:
“They are sitting here asking us, what do you want us to do? We’re saying, figure it out and tell us.”
Horton said the county should not waste its effort going after companies not interested in coming to Georgia.
“I think you’ve got to look at where money currently is going and where you have a legitimate chance of getting some of that money,” he said.
BOC Chairman Melvin Davis, who is a member of the IDA by virtue of his BOC role, was more determined to push forward with a directive for IDA.
He introduced Tom Griffith, whom, Davis said, he had invited to the meeting.
Griffith, founder of Golden Pantry Food Stores, based in Oconee County near Bogart, said the county needs to purchase what is called the Orkin property, a piece of land at the U.S. 78 and SR 316 interchange and stretching into Clarke County, and have it available for development.
Griffith also said the county should put “one person” in charge of leading the development effort in the county and “trust” him to go forward. That person, he said, should be Davis.
The Industrial Development Authority has five members.
Chuck Williams, president of North Georgia Bank, is chairman, and he opened the meeting last night, which was held from 4 to 6 p.m. in the courthouse in Watkinsville.
The IDA meets at 4 p.m. on the second month of each month.
Other members are BOC Chairman Davis, Oconee Chamber of Commerce President J.R. Whitfield, Watkinsville Mayor Joe Walter, and Rick Waller. Waller and Williams are appointed by the BOC.
The county also has a Development Authority, which consists of the IDA and six additional members, four of them at-large appointments of the BOC.
The meeting was last night was attended by two reporters from The Oconee Enterprise, one from the Athens Banner-Herald, and even one from The Oconee Leader.
About a half dozen citizens also attended.
Williams said at the end of the meeting he felt some progress had been made and that the “ball is now in the court of the IDA.”
“I would ask that we keep the dialog open,” he said.
The full video of the meeting is at the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.