Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Government Annex Renovation Stalls at Oconee County BOC Meeting

“Brilliant” Idea on Hold

Plans to renovate the Oconee County Government Annex building on SR 15 on the south side of Watkinsville stalled tonight after County Administrative Officer Alan Theriault announced the latest cost estimate of $1.324 million.

The Board of Commissioners delayed making a final decision and decided instead to put the item on the agenda for the Nov. 2 meeting.

Commissioners Chuck Horton and Jim Luke spoke against going forward on the project.

John Daniell said he remained in favor of the plan. Commissioner Margaret Hale said she still wanted to explore some options before making the final decision and argued for the postponement of a decision.

If Hale joins with Daniell at the Nov. 2 meeting in favor of the project, as she indicated she might, and Horton and Luke voted against, BOC Chairman Melvin Davis would break the tie.

He indicated tonight he is opposed to going forward with the renovation.

The county has been considering a major renovation of the Government Annex since it was proposed in May by county Finance Director Jeff Benko as a way of saving money as the county tried to balance its budget in the face of revenue shortfalls.

The idea was to move the Planning Department, Code Enforcement and other offices out of the Courthouse Annex, across Main street from the courthouse in downtown Watkinsville, to the Annex and to cancel the lease on the Courthouse Annex.

The Government Annex now houses the Utility Department, Public Works and the Fire Department. It also is used by the United States Department of Agriculture and Athens Technical College adult education program.

At a public meeting on the renovation on Sept. 21, the commissioners looked at three separate plans for the renovation of the Government Annex, with the most expensive running to just less than $1.9 million.

Theriault said the $1.3 million version scaled back on expenses by eliminating roof repairs, a brick facade and covered entrance, and simplifying internal office structure. The cost estimate does include the cost of moving, of renting temporary office trailers and of furniture.

The plan includes space for adult education but not for the USDA.

Theriault said he had met with each of the commissioners individually over the last week and a half to discuss the renovation options.

The reduced plans and cost were not enough to satisfy Horton, who spoke first after Theriault summarized the new proposal.

“I think it is trying to do the right thing,” Horton said, but said he thought it wasn’t going to accomplish what the county wanted.

Davis next seized the opportunity to speak and said while he agreed that consolidation of the county departments in one location made sense, he was not sure the Government Annex was the right place.

“I think the final location of this concept deserves further study,” he said.

The county also has been considering building a new judicial facility, estimated to cost in the neighborhood of $20 million. A pubic hearing on that plan was held Oct. 19.

Commissioner Luke said he has been opposed to the renovation of the Government Annex from the beginning and that his position had not changed.

Daniell said he “can count to three most of the time, and I can see where this is going” but he was “very discouraged” with the decision. He called the original idea “brilliant” and said he was “really disappointed” with the apparent decision.

Hale said she wanted more information about a possible reduction in the lease price of the Courthouse Annex, referred to as the Dolvin Property, and about an increase in the amount of money the USDA might be willing to pay for its space.

She said she could be in favor of the proposal if all the pieces fell into place.