Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Continues Discussion of Courthouse Annex Purchase

Topic of Executive Session

Negotiations between Oconee County and the owners of the land and two buildings housing the Courthouse Annex are progressing, and County Attorney Daniel Haygood said last night he expects the issue to come before the public and the Board of Commissioners relatively soon.

The commissioners went into a 15-minute executive session after its regular open meeting last night.

Haygood told me at the end of the session that he had briefed the commissioners in the executive session on his negotiations with the owners of the property.

The land and two buildings are owned by 22 North Main LLC. The property is located at 22 N. Main St. across from the courthouse.

Ray B. Burruss Jr. of Athens is listed as the agent in the county tax records. According to those records, the current owner acquired the property from Elizabeth Dolvin in 2005. The property is commonly referred to as the “Dolvin property.”

Haygood said the purchase price remains $1 million, and that the offer for continued lease of the land is likely to be at a slightly lower rate than the current lease rate.

According to Alan Theriault, administrative officer for the county, the current lease requires the county to pay $6,942.60 per month, or $83,311.20 per year, for the two buildings.

Haygood and Theriault said that all discussions about purchase of the property have been handled by Haygood.

I asked Theriault on July 1 for a copy of written correspondence regarding the offer from the courthouse annex property owners.

Theriault told me at the beginning of last night’s regular meeting that the only written documents he had discovered on the matter are covered by attorney-client privilege and cannot be released without approval of Haygood.

Haygood said after the meeting and executive session he is “getting close” to being able to release details of the negotiations.

The Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee reviewed the possible purchase of the courthouse annex property at its June 14 meeting. Committee Chairman Abe Abouhamdan reported on that review to the BOC on June 28.

The Committee voted to recommend that the Board go forward with the purchase.

After Abouhamdan made his report, however, no member of the BOC spoke, and no indication was given of the timetable for a decision.

Theriault told me on July 1 that he did not know when the BOC would take up the matter again.

“I have gotten no indication one way or the other on what happens next,” he said.

Haygood asked for the executive session last night.

The Board began exploring possible purchase of the property during budget discussions this year as a way of saving the county money.

The county has unspent money in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds that it could use for purchase of the property, and, by owning the property, the county could save the cost of the lease.

Two citizens, Pam Hendrix and Mike Power, spoke strongly against that purchase at the June 28 meeting. Hendrix was a candidate for Superior Court Judge in the November election. Power is a local businessman and property owner.

Several members of the LUTPC had expressed concerns about citizen reaction to the purchase at the June 14 meeting, but Abouhamdan did not raise those concerns in his report to the commissioners.

“Even though we’ve got these SPLOST funds available to us that we can basically write a check, how easy is this going to be to explain to John Q. Taxpayer that we are spending $1 million while everybody else in the county is cutting budgets?” Shane Carson asked.

Abouhamdan also misstated the size of the property and the assessed value in his presentation to the Board of Commissioners.

The property is approximately 0.6 acre, according to records county Strategic and Long-Range Planning Director Wayne Provost gave to the land use committee.

County Chief Appraiser Allen Skinner told the committee at the beginning of the June 14 Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee meeting, which Abouhamdan chaired, the assessed value of the property. It also is listed on the tax records as $662,491.

Abouhamdan also misstated the vote at the June 14 meeting.

“We had 14 members and we had a unanimous vote,” he told the commissioners.

The minutes of the meeting indicate that only nine members were present.

The BOC must make any decision about purchase of the property in an open meeting. It could take such a vote in an open meeting at the end of an executive session, but the Board usually puts these matters on the agenda of regular meetings.

The BOC is scheduled to meet in an agenda setting session on July 26. The next regular meeting is scheduled for Aug. 2.

Agendas usually are released to the public a few days before the meetings.


The full video of the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee meeting of June 14 is available on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.