Sunday, June 05, 2011

Oconee County Commissioners Seeking Input from Citizen Advisory Committee on Courthouse Annex

Dolvin Property

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners is asking a citizen advisory committee for advice on possible purchase of the property in downtown Watkinsville across from the courthouse and currently leased by the county for the Courthouse Annex.

Owners of the tract, referred to as the Dolvin property, have indicated they are willing to sell the two-building complex to the county for $1 million.

The property currently is assessed at $662,491.

The county’s five-year lease on the property expires on Nov. 30, and the county also could attempt to negotiate a new lease beyond that point, possibly including an option to purchase in the future.

The Citizen Advisory Committee for Land Use and Transportation Planning is scheduled to take up the issue at its regular meeting on June 14 at the Community Center at Oconee Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road.

The meeting starts at 7 p.m. and is open to the public.

This is the second year that the BOC has discussed the Courthouse Annex property while trying to create a budget for the upcoming fiscal year. Commissioners have not yet released a budget for 2012, which must be passed before the current fiscal year expires at the end of this month.

February 2011

Last year the commissioners considered terminating the lease on the Courthouse Annex property and moving the offices housed there to the Government Annex, located in the south of Watkinsville on SR 15.

That move fell apart when renovation of the Government Annex to house offices now in the Courthouse Annex proved more expensive than a majority of the Commission would approve.

According to Alan Theriault, administrative officer for the county, the current lease requires the county to pay $6,942.60 per month for the two buildings, which total 9,200 square-feet. That is $83,311.20 per year.

In addition, the county pays for utilities, lawn care and an alarm system, bringing total cost to about $100,000 per year.

The county has enough money in unspent funds from the 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which expired in 2009, to purchase the property.

By purchasing the property, the county would enjoy an immediate savings of at least $83,000 to help balance a roughly $2 million gap between budget needs and projected revenue for next year.

The savings probably would be greater, however, as the county is likely to have to pay more under a new lease.

The county first signed a lease for the Courthouse Annex property beginning on Nov. 13, 2006, and paid about $500 less per month during the first three years of the lease than the last two, according to Theriault.

The county doesn’t have an obvious alternative to the Courthouse Annex property, leaving it in a weak position in any negotiations.

The first building, facing North Main Street, houses the Planning Department and Code Enforcement. The second building, on First Street, provides space for the Sheriff’s Office Investigator, the Environment Health Department and the coroner.

Tourism was in the second building but has moved to space across the street next to the courthouse.

The 0.6-acre property also includes a concrete-paved parking lot for approximately 25 vehicles.

The tax records list the property owner as Ray B. Burruss Jr. of Athens, but he acquired it through a quit claim deed from Elizabeth Dolvin in 2007, according to those records.

The tax documents indicate the first building, 5,576 square-feet in size, was built in 1993. The second, at 3,640 square feet, was built in 1995.

Both buildings have two stories, with brick exteriors.

Theriault told me in a telephone conversation on Friday that the owners “won’t come off” the $1 million figure.

Theriault said no professional appraisal of the property has been done, but plans are underway to get such an appraisal.

Wayne Provost, director of strategic and long-range planning for the county and administrative liaison to the land use committee, wrote to the citizen committee on May 24 informing it that “the Board of Commissioners has asked that the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee discuss potential advantages or disadvantages of purchasing the property.”

The BOC also wants to “initiate public input to the decision making process, as soon as possible,” Provost wrote.

Committee Chairman Abe Abouhamdan told me in a telephone conversation on Friday that the BOC is seeking a recommendation from his Committee on the best course of action.

He said citizens would have a chance to speak at the meeting on June 14.

The released agenda for the Land Use and Transportation Committee meeting allows for comment from the public.

As is usually the case for Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee meetings, however, public comment is allowed only after the Committee has completed action on its agenda items.

The sole agenda item for that June 14 meeting is the Courthouse Annex.