Friday, December 21, 2012

Oconee County Reports Surplus For 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax and Spending From 2009 Tax

BOE Reports Tax Spending Too

Oconee County has $4.7 million in unspent revenue from the 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax of 2004, which expired at the end of 2009, according to the required annual report on SPLOST spending published in yesterday’s edition of The Oconee Enterprise.

The report also shows that the county has spent about a third of the projected revenue from the 2009 SPLOST, which started in calendar year 2010 and will run for six years, ending in December of 2016.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Hard Labor Creek Loan Put Forward For January Vote at Oconee County Board of Commissioners Meeting

Repayment Plans Not Specified

The Oconee County Board of Commissions took the first step last night toward acceptance of $5.8 million in new debt for construction of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in Walton County.

The action followed approval earlier in the day by the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board of loan documents from the state of Georgia that will allow Oconee County and Walton County to receive a $20 million loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) for construction of the reservoir dam.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Oconee County Board Of Commissioners To Consider New Debt for Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir

Loan Documents To Be Reviewed

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to review Georgia Environmental Finance Authority loan documents on Tuesday night as the first step toward approval of an additional $20 million of indebtedness for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir in Walton County.

It will be the first opportunity for citizens of the county to comment on the loan, and the first real chance for them to review the decision of the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board to seek state funding to continue work on the project.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Caterpillar Decided To Send Sewage to Athens-Clarke, Not Oconee County, For Treatment

Oconee Building New Line

Caterpillar has decided to send its sewage from its plant under construction near Bogart to Athens-Clarke County for treatment, rather than to Oconee County, as had been planned.

Oconee County Utility Department Director Chris Thomas told me on Monday that Caterpillar made the decision after looking at the limits that would be imposed on it in Oconee County, where the amount of metals that can be handled is quite low because of the size of the county’s treatment plants.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Presbyterian Homes of Georgia Could Be Required To Build New Sewage Line Along Barber Creek As Condition Of Rezone

Other Options Rejected

The Oconee County Planning Department is recommending that Presbyterian Homes of Georgia be required to build a gravity sewer line along Barber Creek as a condition for rezone of 96 acres on Rocky Branch Road for a proposed continuing care retirement community.

That sewer line would cost an estimated $1.2 million and would require PHG to get easements from 31 property owners, some of whom have been vocal opponents of the rezone request.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Oconee County Planning Commission Grants Presbyterian Homes of Georgia Request for Delay

Come Back In June

The Oconee County Planning Commission voted tonight to accept the request of Presbyterian Homes of Georgia for a postponement of consideration of its request for a rezone of 96 acres on Rocky Branch Road for a continuing care retirement community.

Smith Planning Group, 1022 Twelve Oaks Place, just east of Butler’s Crossing, sent a fax to the Oconee County Planning Department seven minutes before official closing time today asking for the delay on behalf of his client Frank McElroy, president and CEO of PHG.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Oconee County Planning Staff Recommends Against Presbyterian Homes of Georgia Rezone Request

Proponents And Opponents Are Many

The Oconee County planning staff has recommended against approval of the requested rezone by Presbyterian Homes of Georgia for 96 acres on Rocky Branch Road and against the special use request to construct a continuing care retirement community on the site.

The staff report, completed on Nov. 30, states that the request to rezone the Autumn Glen subdivision across from Old Waverly for the PHG facility “appears to conflict with the development goals and strategies” the county has established for the area.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

County Submitted Application For Federal Funds To Extend Oconee Veterans Park Trail

End Dead End

Hardly a day goes by when someone doesn’t ask him when the walking trail at Veterans Park will be completed, Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department Director John Gentry told the Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Nov. 6.

That trail now dead ends abruptly behind the soccer fields on the eastern side of the popular park on Hog Mountain Road west of Butler’s Crossing.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners Call For Drafting Of Resolution Supporting Overhaul Of House Redistricting

Davis Skeptical

Oconee County commissioners last night asked County Attorney Daniel Haygood and Administrative Officer Jeff Benko to draft a resolution for next week’s meeting that would call for the county to be reunited in a single district in the Georgia House of Representatives.

While Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis expressed doubts about the initiative, Commissioners Chuck Horton and Jim Luke made strong statements of support for such a resolution. Commissioner Margaret Hale also said she wants the county to have a single representative.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Oconee County and Walton County Votes On Hard Labor Creek Loan Postponed to January

Negotiating Something New

The Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board has postponed the dates for approval of a state loan for construction of the 1,400-acre reservoir in southeastern Walton County pending the outcome of negotiations over the language of the loan contracts.

The loan documents as presented to the Board obligate only Walton County to repay the loan, while both Walton County and Oconee County officials expected and want the debt to be split on the agreed-upon ratio of 71/29, with Oconee County the minority partner.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Oconee County Commissioner Horton Seeking Support for Revisiting Georgia House Redistricting

Quick, Williams Offer Views

Oconee County Commissioner Chuck Horton has asked County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko to add legislative redistricting to the agenda for the Board of Commissioners meetings scheduled for Nov. 27 and Dec. 4.

Horton told me in email messages from Sunday and again today that he will ask the BOC to endorse an effort to restore Oconee County to a single district in the Georgia House of Representatives.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Oconee County Code Enforcement Issued Permits for Theaters at Epps Bridge Center

Red and Black

Construction is underway on the University 16 Stadium Theatre at Epps Bridge Centre following the issuance last month by the Oconee County Code Enforcement Office of a foundation permit and a shell permit for the 70,412-square-foot building.

The county currently is reviewing detailed building plans for the theater prior to issuing a full building permit.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Romney Bested McCain Record In Percentage and Number of Votes, Despite Low Turnout In Oconee County

Darwin Did Well Too

NOTE: The Georgia Secretary of State's Election Division released updated results for Oconee County at 12:56 p.m. today (Nov. 12, 2012) and updated results for the state as a whole at 4:46 p.m. I have revised the chart and all of the text below to reflect these new results. These new data changed the interpretation of the lower turnout rate, and that change is reflected below as well. Lee

Mitt Romney got 13,098 votes in Tuesday’s election in Oconee County, which is 978 more votes than John McCain received in the county four years ago.

Barack Obama finished with 4,421 votes, which is 404 fewer than he obtained in the county four years earlier.

Monday, November 05, 2012

Georgia DNR Waiting On Caterpillar Application For Discharge Permit For Oconee County/Clarke County Site

Presbyterian Homes Link

The Georgia Department of Natural Resources is waiting for Caterpillar to submit its application for a pretreatment permit for discharge from the plant it has under construction at its site straddling the Oconee and Clarke county borders.

Bill Noell, unit manager for the industrial permitting unit of DNR, told me on Friday that Caterpillar has said it has filed the permit request, but he said DNR has not yet received it.

Close To Half Of Oconee County’s Voters Already Have Cast Their Ballots

Standard For Romney: 69 Percent

Nearly 45 percent of the active voters in Oconee County already have cast their ballots on the eve of tomorrow’s election.

By the end of early voting on Friday, 9,399 persons had voted at the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road or the Board of Elections and Registration Office in Watkinsville, according to Carole Amos, deputy registrar.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Presbyterian Homes Inviting Oconee County Residents Interested in Proposed Retirement Facility To Meet

Prior to Rezone Vote

Presbyterian Homes of Georgia is inviting Oconee County residents who had expressed an interest in moving into the proposed Presbyterian Village near Butler’s Crossing to come to a meeting on Nov. 7 to learn about the new plans for a similar facility on Rocky Branch Road.

The meeting comes just head of the Nov. 19 Oconee County Planning Commission meeting and the Dec. 4 Board of Commissioners meeting and gives Presbyterian Homes of Georgia a chance to rally support for the rezone, special use and variance request it is seeking for the Rocky Branch Road site.

Monday, October 29, 2012

Regina Quick Waiting on Oconee County Board of Commissioners to Offer Advice On Redistricting

New Maps Examined

Regina Quick, unopposed on the Nov. 6 ballot in the newly created 117th House District, says she is waiting on advice from the Oconee County Board of Commissioners before moving forward on her campaign promise to try to re-unite Oconee County in a single House district.

“If they make the request, I’ll do everything in my power to make that change,” Quick told me in a telephone conversation yesterday. She was referring to the members of the Commission.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Presbyterian Homes of Georgia Offering Village in Austell As Representative of Oconee County Facility

Colorful Brochures Show Lots of Gray Hair

Citizens who express an interest in the Presbyterian Homes of Georgia Continuing Care Retirement Community proposed for Rocky Branch Road in Oconee County are being sent materials about an existing facility, Presbyterian Village in Austell, west of Atlanta.

Michelle Morris, director of marketing for the Cobb County complex, told me materials are not available yet for the Oconee County facility and that the Austell materials are illustrative of what will be provided when the local facility is being marketed.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Oconee County Chamber of Commerce Joins Board of Education in Opposing State Charter School Amendment

Local Proponents Not Organized

The Oconee County Chamber of Commerce has added its support to the resolution passed by the Board of Education earlier this month asking voters in Oconee County to vote against the charter school amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The Chamber included the BOE resolution in its Oct. 15 newsletter with the heading stating that “The Oconee County Chamber of Commerce Supports the Board of Education’s Resolution for the Purpose of Supporting Quality Georgia Public Education.”

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Hard Labor Creek Management Board Still Waiting on Loan Documents From State

Oconee Approval Expected On Dec. 4

The Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board has revised its schedule for approval of the $32 million in loans the state is offering for construction of the reservoir because the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) has not yet provided the loan documents for review.

Project Manager Jimmy Parker told me today that he expects to receive the loan documents on Oct. 26 and that he anticipates that the Oconee County Board of Commissioners will approve the two loans at its Dec. 4 meeting.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Oconee County Planning Commission Gives Nod To Rezone At Daniells Bridge and Mars Hill Roads

Right Turns Only

The Oconee County Planning Commission tonight voted to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that the Board rezone 5.1 acres between Mars Hill Road and Daniells Bridge Road for a small shopping center/office complex.

The Planning Commission added the condition before sending the rezone request on to the BOC that the entrance to the shopping and office complex off Mars Hill Road shall be right turn in and right turn out only.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

R-3 Zoning Category Requested by Presbyterian Homes of Georgia Allows for Multiple Uses At Oconee County Site

Including Apartments

The R-3 zoning classification that Presbyterian Homes of Georgia is seeking for a 96-acre site on Rocky Branch Road would allow for two-family duplexes, multi-family townhouses and multi-family apartments, none of which are allowed on the property as currently zoned.

With a special use designation, the R-3 also allows for the Continuing Care Retirement Community use that PHG is seeking, as well as for an assisted living facility. Assisted living will be part of the CCRC facility that PHG is proposing.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Oconee County Magistrate Court Fines Oconee Waste Transport $1,425 for Zoning Violation

Elder Reapported to IDA

Oconee County Magistrate Court Judge Eric W. Norris fined Oconee Waste Transport $1,425 last week for operating outside the business hours set forth in a rezone ordinance passed by the Board of Commissioners in September of 2010.

Elder 9/14/2012

Judge Norris had found after a hearing before him on Sept. 14 that OWT had violated the rezone ordinance, but Norris did not enter his final order and specify the fine until Thursday. The $1,425 fine includes court and administrative costs. The base fine was $1,000.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Three-Sided Billboard for Epps Bridge Parkway, Relocation Of Billboard In Butler’s Crossing

One More Removed

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners tonight amended the agreement it had reached with Fairway Outdoor Advertising on July 24 to allow a proposed two-sided sign on Epps Bridge Parkway to become a three-sided sign.

It also voted to allow Fairway to approach the Board of Education to discuss placing the proposed Butler’s Crossing sign on school property.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Presbyterian Homes Got Sewer Capacity After Much Discussion Among Oconee County Officials

Helium Balloons For Viewing

The decision to grant Presbyterian Homes of Georgia sewage capacity for its proposed Continuing Care Retirement Community on Rocky Branch Road followed back-and-forth communication among Oconee County officials reflecting differences of opinion about how to handle sewage allocation for the project.

The project needed that sewage capacity allocation to begin the process of review that is now underway.

Saturday, October 06, 2012

Corps of Engineers To Conduct Site Visit of Aycock Road Farm Pond To Investigate Complaint

58 Acre Pond in Morgan County Also Proposed

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has told Southern Environmental Law Center attorney Nate Hunt that it will conduct a site visit of the farm pond that local farmer Tony Townley built earlier this year on property he owns on Aycock Road just west of its intersection with Matthews Road.

Hunt, an expert on the farm pond exemption to the federal Clean Water Act, had written to the Corps on June 26 expressing concern about the pond built on Frazier Creek.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

New Small Shopping Center and Office Complex Proposed for Daniells Bridge Road Intersection

Across from QuikTrip

The busy Oconee Connector–Mars Hill Road–Daniells Bridge Road intersection will get even more traffic if the Oconee County Board of Commissioners approves a new rezone request for a small shopping center/office complex with entrances on both Mars Hill Road and Daniells Bridge Road.

Abe Abouhamdan, chairman of the Oconee County Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning, has submitted the application to rezone property currently owned by Gary and Linda Carroll of Eastpoint, Fla.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Presbyterian Homes of Georgia Wants to Relocate Proposed Oconee Facility To Rocky Branch Road

Needs Rezone and Variance

Presbyterian Homes of Georgia has submitted plans to the Oconee County Planning Department that would shift its approved residential retirement facility from the commercial area of Butler's Crossing outside Watkinsville to a residential area on Rocky Branch Road.

The nonprofit corporation from Quitman plans to build a $77 million Continuing Care Retirement Facility that would include cottages, villas, an apartment building, a health services center and a support building on the south side of Rocky Branch Road next door to a phase of the Rowan Oak gated community and across from Old Waverly subdivision.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Mars Hill Widening on Schedule, Oconee County Public Works Director Reports

Dirt Moving by Late 2013

The purchase of needed rights of way for the widening of Mars Hill Road from SR 316 to Butler’s Crossing is progressing on schedule, and actual construction on the roadway is expected to be underway late next year or early in 2014.

Emil Beschara, Oconee County Public Works director, gave the Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning a status report on land acquisition for the widening project at its meeting on Sept. 11.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Hard Labor Creek Management Board Agrees To Consider Adding Citizens from Walton and Oconee Counties

Vacancies Exist

The Hard Labor Creek Management Board agreed today to resolve the issue of citizen representation on the Management Board by modifying the intergovernmental agreement Walton and Oconee counties signed in 2007.

No vote was taken, but Management Board members said they wanted to have the issue settled so the newly seated boards of commissioners in the two counties can make their appointments in January and have the option of including citizens.

Monday, September 17, 2012

Oconee County To Add Three Billboards As Part of Settlement with Fairway Outdoor Advertising

One For Butler’s Crossing

Oconee County will get three new billboards--two of them on Epps Bridge Parkway and one in Butler’s Crossing--as a result of a settlement the county has reached with Fairway Outdoor Advertising, a national outdoor advertising company with regional offices in Athens.

Fairway also agreed to remove three of the six billboards it currently has along U.S. 441–one for each of the new billboards it installs on Epps Bridge Parkway and in Butler’s Crossing.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Oconee County Magistrate Court Judge Finds Oconee Waste Transport Violated Zoning Ordinance

What Does Hours of Operation Mean?

Oconee County Magistrate Court Judge Eric Norris on Friday found Matt Elder in violation of a county zoning ordinance when Elder began operating his Oconee Waste Transport business before 6 a.m. on July 11 of this year.

Though Elder plead not guilty to the charge, he admitted operating his trucks on his lot before the allowed opening time. Elder’s attorney contended that since Oconee Waste Transport had not opened the business office, it was not in violation of the zoning restriction.

Sunday, September 09, 2012

Oconee and Clarke County Development Authorities Option Additional Land in Orkin Tract for Caterpillar

Taxes Shifted

The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority and its counterpart in Athens-Clarke County last week decided to take an option on 204 acres of land in what is called the Orkin tract in the hopes that the land will be used either by Caterpillar or some of its suppliers.

The optioned land is in addition to the 263 acres the two counties purchased from the Orkin tract earlier this year and that is being used by Caterpillar for the plant under construction on the eastern edge of Bogart.

Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners Appoint Benko as Administrative Officer and Geddings as Finance Director

Two Powerful Posts

In a surprise move tonight, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners appointed Jeff Benko to serve as county administrative officer and Wes Geddings as finance director, effective tomorrow.

Benko currently is serving as finance director, and Geddings is assistant finance director.

Sunday, September 02, 2012

State Will Not Seek Access to Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Water For Atlanta, Oconee County and Other Officials Predict

Loan Documents To Be Scrutinized

Although nothing can be certain until the state provides the loan contracts, Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Project Manager Jimmy Parker said he does not expect the state to require that Oconee and Walton counties share water from the reservoir with Atlanta as a condition for the $32 million in loans the state is offering.

“I don’t anticipate any language in there to that effect,” Parker told me by telephone last Tuesday. He said he expects the state to issue a standard Georgia Environmental Finance Authority loan that will not include any state involvement in the project.

Saturday, September 01, 2012

Regina Quick Moving Forward With Plans to Revisit Split of Oconee County in 2011 Redistricting

Meeting Set for Tuesday

Regina Quick, the unopposed Republican candidate in Georgia House District 117, has taken initial steps to fulfill one of her primary campaign promises: to introduce legislation that would overturn the redistricting passed by the General Assembly in its special session in 2011 splitting Oconee County between two House Districts.

Quick is scheduled to meet with Chuck Williams, the unopposed Republican candidate in Georgia House District 119, and with Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis on Tuesday and to discuss her campaign promise at that session

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Oconee County Code Enforcement Cites Oconee Waste Transport for Violation of Zoning Ordinance

Court Date Set for Sept. 14

The Oconee County Code Enforcement Office has cited Matt Elder for violation of the ordinance that rezoned 6.2 acres south of Watkinsville from Agricultural to Office Business Park in 2010 so Elder could locate his Oconee Waste Transport business there.

The county claims in the citation that Elder operated his business before 6 a.m. despite the specification in the ordinance that the hours of operation should only be from 6 a.m. to 6:30 p.m. on weekdays and from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturdays.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Hard Labor Creek Board Accepts Schedule for Oconee County, Walton County Approval of State Loans

Loan Execution Can Be Delayed

The Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board today accepted without comment a schedule that calls for the Oconee County Board of Commissioners to approve on Nov. 6 two loans for $32 million from the state of Georgia for construction of the dam that will create the reservoir in the very south of Walton County.

The issue will be approved by the Management Board itself on Oct. 16, according to the schedule, and come to the Oconee County BOC on Oct. 30 for first reading. The Walton County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to approve the loan on Nov.6, when the Oconee County BOC also takes final action.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Hard Labor Creek Board on Tuesday To Consider State Loans for Joint Oconee and Walton County Project

Water Available to Metro Atlanta

The Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Management Board on Tuesday is scheduled to take up the $32 million in loans that the state is offering Oconee and Walton counties to help them build the 1,400-acre lake in the very south of Walton County.

The counties promised to give metro-Atlanta access to the water as part of the application for the loans.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Justification for Farm Pond Exemption for Lake on Aycock Road Remains Hidden to Public

Farm Act of 2008 Cited

The justification for the farm pond exemption to the federal Clean Water Act that Oconee County farmer Tony Townley received for a lake he built this spring on property he owns on Aycock Road remains hidden from the public because of an interpretation of a section of the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008.

Chalmer Rennie from the Natural Resources Conservation Service in Washington used that justification for denying an appeal I had made of an earlier decision by Sharon Gipson from the Athens office of NRCS.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

Analysis of Oconee County July 31 Election Suggests Voters Treated Races as Separate Matters

But Tough on Women

Oconee County voters on Tuesday said an overwhelming no to the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax but reelected Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis, who was one of its strongest local supporters.

In reelecting Davis, the voters rejected challenger and current commissioner Chuck Horton, one of Davis’ strongest critics, but voters gave strong support to incumbent commissioner Jim Luke, who has been even more outspoken of late in his criticism of Davis.

Wednesday, August 01, 2012

Oconee and Walton Counties Get Loans from State for Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Project

No Grant Money

The state of Georgia today announced approval of $32 million in loans to Oconee and Walton counties to allow them to move forward with construction of the Hard Labor Creek Reservoir in Walton County.

The counties will not be required to make any payments on the larger loan of $20 million until it comes due in 40 years. No interest will be charged against the loan during construction of the reservoir, and the single balloon payment will be of principal and 1 percent interest.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Oconee County Could Have Big Changes In Its Government by End of Day Tomorrow

And Fewer Robo Calls

Oconee County voters could go to bed tomorrow night having elected a new sheriff, a majority female Board of Commissioners and a new chairman, a Board of Education chairman who knows the schools but has never been on the Board itself, a tax commissioner with legal experience but no experience in the tax commissioner office, and a woman to represent part of the county in the General Assembly.

And they could have added an additional 1 percent sales tax to the 7 percent sales tax they already pay as part of a proposal to improve regional transportation, including interchanges on SR 316.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

All Four Oconee County Board of Commissioners Candidates Want to Keep Power Balance with Chairman

No Rollback Sought

Regardless of which of the two candidates running for the chairmanship of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners wins on Tuesday, he is going to be confronted with four other commissioners who say that they want to share governance equally with the chairman.

The current four commissioners, over the objection of incumbent chairman Melvin Davis, in August of 2009 approved an ordinance requiring the county administrative officer and its finance director to report to all five Commission member, not just the chairman, as had been the case prior to passage of the ordinance.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners Accuse Chairman Davis of Playing Politics With Salary Increases

Luke, Daniell Take Lead

The ongoing election for chairman of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners spilled over into the agenda-setting meeting tonight as the Board debated a proposal to give cost-of-living wage increases to employees of three departments funded by the state but supplemented by the county.

In the end, the Board voted unanimously to give the salary adjustments to staff members in the Superior Court, County Extension and District Attorneys Office, but only after Commissioners Jim Luke and John Daniell criticized BOC Chairman Melvin Davis for bringing the issue up in the last week of the election.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Oconee County Citizens Turn Out To Question Candidates and Learn About T-SPLOST

2 Forums 2 Nights

More than 80 people turned out for the Candidate Forum on Monday night featuring the six candidates for the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, two for the Board of Education, and one of the two candidates for sheriff.

For the second Forum on Tuesday, more than 50 people turned out to ask questions of the two contenders for the office of county Tax Commissioner, the pose questions to the two candidates for the House District 117 seat, and to hear four incumbent or former state legislators from Oconee County talk about the history of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax ballot issue.

Sunday, July 08, 2012

Oconee County Board of Commissioners and Board of Education Contests To Start Candidate Forums Monday and Tuesday

Other Contests Follow

The Candidate Forum scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. tomorrow night in the Community Center at Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road will begin with all six candidates running for the three Commission posts at center stage.

Each candidate will be given two minutes to introduce herself or himself before taking questions directly from the audience.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Nonpartisan Oconee County Candidate Forums on July 9 and 10 To Include Session On T-SPLOST Legislative History

July 31 Primaries

Two nonpartisan forums in which citizens will have the chance to pose their questions directly to candidates contesting races in Oconee County will be held July 9 and 10 at the Community Center in Veterans Park.

The sessions each night will begin at 7 p.m. and end at 9 p.m. at the Hog Mountain Road facility.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Daniells Bridge Road FOR SALE Signs Signal Changes in Some Proposed Oconee County Developments

Original Proposals Not Binding

Residents living in subdivisions along Daniells Bridge Road were confronted with a new For Sale sign last month for a property in the sharp curve as the roadway veers away from the entrance ramp to SR Loop 10.

That property had been rezoned by the Board of Commissioners in December of 2008 despite protest from residents of the subdivisions who felt that the traffic generated by the proposed office building would make the roadway even more dangerous.

Friday, June 08, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners Hear Report on Sewer Capacity Fee Investigation

“We Had A Mess”

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on May 29 brought at least a temporary close to a two-year investigation of how the county handles sewer capacity fees when county Administrative Officer Alan Theriault read a nine-minute-long report on that investigation into the public record.

“Frankly, we had a mess,” said Commissioner Jim Luke at the end of the report, given as part of the regular Commission meeting. He said he was pleased with what the county had done to address the problem.

Sunday, June 03, 2012

Oconee County Customers To Begin Paying More For Water and Sewer Services on July 1

Hard Labor Creek Debt Service Up

Oconee County water and sewer customers will begin paying higher rates on July 1 as part of the budget passed by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners last Tuesday.

The base rate for residential water customers will go from $17.50 per month to $18.00, or an increase of 2.9 percent.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Farm Pond Exemption to Clean Water Act Allows Farmers To Do What Oconee County Government, Developers Cannot: Part I

Frazier Creek Disappearing

Over the last 10 plus years, Tony Townley, one of the founders of Zaxby’s and now one of the largest land owners in Oconee County, has built a series of small lakes and ponds on his properties.

Included is a recently constructed small lake on Frazier Creek that backs up to Aycock Road just west of that road’s intersection with Matthews Road. Frazier Creek is a tributary of the Apalachee River.

Farm Pond Exemption to Clean Water Act Allows Farmers To Do What Oconee County Government, Developers Cannot: Part II

Downstream from Aycock Road Small Lake

I first learned of the Tony Townley ponds on Feb. 29, when James Knecht sent me an email message telling me about the small lake being built on Aycock Road on property abutting his.

Knecht and his wife, Sandra, whose address is 1451 Aycock Road, have a home they built overlooking a lengthy shoals on Frazier Creek, downstream from the lake constructed by Townley this year.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Caterpillar’s Impact Hard To Know Until Suppliers Identified, According To Oconee County Development Head

Location Minimizes Traffic

Caterpillar will bring about 150 people from outside the area to work at the manufacturing plant and distribution center on the edge of Bogart, but those people are unlikely to all settle in Oconee County.

The plant is located at a nearly ideal location in terms of transportation, and it is unlikely to have a significant impact on traffic congestion in the area.

The major impact of the project will come when suppliers also move to the area, but, at present, it is “too early to tell” how many such suppliers will relocate here.

These were some of the comments Oconee County Economic Development Director Rusty Haygood made to members of the Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning at its meeting on May 15.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Oconee County Citizen Committee Edges Toward Endorsement of Transportation Tax Referendum

Decides to Make List First

The Oconee County Citizen Advisory Committee on Land Use and Transportation Planning took a step Tuesday night toward endorsing the July 31 Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum.

But it changed course, deciding to develop first a list of local projects that might be funded by some of the monies from the tax.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Caterpillar Site Development Plans Tentatively Scheduled for May 23 Review by Oconee County Committee

Sidewalks Included

Caterpillar submitted site development plans to the Oconee County Planning Department on Friday that call for buildings totaling 900,723 square feet, for 484,085 square feet of paved area, and for 6,692 square feet of sidewalks.

The total impervious area for the plant, on the eastern edge of Bogart, will be 1,391,500 square feet, covering about 13 percent of the roughly 250-acre site, according to the documents.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

Caterpillar Facility To Be Smaller Than Originally Announced, Preliminary Site Plans Filed in Oconee County Show

Change Called Not Significant

The Caterpillar facility now under construction on the Atlanta Highway will consist of a 815,851 square-foot set of buildings providing warehouse, assembly, fabrication and office space, according to the overall site layout plans submitted to the Oconee County Code Enforcement Office.

The facility is more than 300,000 square feet smaller than was proposed in preliminary plans submitted to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission in late February.

Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Few Advocates for T-SPLOST Vote in August Coming Forward in Oconee County

Educate or Advocate?

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis stands alone at present among county governmental and business leaders in his stated support for the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to be voted on July 31.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Oconee County Gives Nod to Intergovernmental Agreement For Orkin Tract

“Simple Concept”

Approximately 838 acres that straddle the Oconee County-Clarke County line, split roughly in half when the Georgia General Assembly created Oconee County from western Clarke County in 1875, were given a push last night toward reunification.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners gave tentative approval to an intergovernmental agreement that treats the Orkin tract, including the 263 acres that will become the home for the Caterpillar plant, as one, largely ignoring the county boundary running through it.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners Scheduled to Discuss Intergovernmental Agreement for Caterpillar Plant Site

Costs/Revenues Shared

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night is set to discuss a proposed intergovernmental agreement with Athens-Clarke County that would split evenly both the costs and revenues from the Caterpillar project.

The agreement on how to share the costs and revenues for the Caterpillar project is an appendix to a general agreement that specifies that the two counties will work together to develop the Orkin site, which straddles the county line and includes the property to be used by Caterpillar for its new manufacturing plant.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Oconee Farmers Market Opens Season in New Venue in Front of Courthouse in Watkinsville

Move a Success

Ten vendors set up booths in front of the courthouse in downtown Watkinsville yesterday to launch the 2012 season of Oconee Farmers Market.

Vendors offered fresh greens, mushrooms, strawberries, fried and boiled peanuts, plants, eggs, jams, pound cakes, shea butter, natural candles, bird houses, squirrel feeders and T-shirts.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Oconee, Clarke Memo of Understanding with Caterpillar Provides Tax Reduction Details, Penalties for Company Nonperformance

Phantom Bonds Issued

The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority, in partnership with the Development Authority of Athens-Clarke County, has bought the 265 acres that will be used by Caterpillar for its new plant and will build the roads and other infrastructure for the plant.

To raise money to pay its part of these costs, Oconee County sold $10.4 million in general revenue bonds on Feb. 23.

The county is required to pay off the bonds by March 1, 2034, increasing property taxes for that purpose if necessary.

Monday, April 02, 2012

Developer of Oconee County Commercial Building at Daniells Bridge Road and Connector Seeking State Environmental Permit

Box Culvert for Bank

An Athens dentist is asking the state Environmental Protection Division to allow him to encroach on the 25-foot buffer of a tributary of Barber Creek so he can build a commercial building at the corner of Daniells Bridge Road and Mars Hill Road across from QuikTrip.

Dr. James J. McDonald Jr., whose office is on Price Avenue, is asking for permission to pipe the tributary of the stream so he can put fill on to the 1.6 acre triangular lot and build a 3,500 square foot commercial building and associated parking lot.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners Get First View of SPLOST Spending for Recreational, Historic and Scenic Facilities

Pond in Herman C. Michael to be Drained

John Gentry, director of the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department, last week gave members of the Board of Commissioners the first view of a proposed spending plan for funds being collected as part of the 2009 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

The plan calls for improvements to all four of the county’s parks, but Oconee Veterans Park will be the big winner, with $590,000 of the $880,000 budgeted through June 30, 2016, going to that park.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Oconee County Utility Department Director Proposes Water and Sewer Rate Increases

Base Rate Up 3 Percent

Oconee County water and sewer rates, which have gone up each of the last three years, will go up again this year if the Board of Commissioners approves the budget request submitted tonight by Utility Department Director Chris Thomas.

The rate increases would be more modest than those proposed last year, and Thomas termed them an adjustment that simply reflected his increased costs of running the Utility Department.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

AmeriPride Seeking State Discharge Permit As Part of Cleanup of Toxics at Watkinsville Site

Need Access Agreement from Elders

As part of its efforts to clean up chemical contamination from a phased-out dry cleaning operation, AmeriPride Services Inc. is seeking a permit to begin discharging 72,000 gallons per day of treated water from four wells near its Watkinsville plant on Experiment State Road into the county wastewater treatment system.

Water in the wells contains tetrachloroethylene, also known as perchloroethylene or PCE, and its degraded products, and these also have been found in nearby Tanyard Branch, a tributary of Calls Creek.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Many Oconee County Republicans and Democrats Bypassed March 6 Presidential Primaries

2008 Primary as Standard

Only 27.7 percent of the registered voters in Oconee County turned out for the March 6 Presidential primaries, down from 48.6 percent four years ago, the official Statement of Votes Cast filed by the county Board of Elections and Registration office late last week shows.

Almost all of the votes cast—97.7 percent—were in the Republican primary, but even Republicans showed limited interest in the race.

Wednesday, March 07, 2012

Oconee Farmers Market to Launch New Season in Front of Courthouse

Lexi Expands Product Line

Oconee Farmers Market will launch its ninth season on April 14 at a new venue–in the parking area in front of the courthouse in downtown Watkinsville.

The Board of Directors of the Market made the move to increase exposure for the market and its vendors.

Monday, March 05, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners Ask Again for More Communication from Chairman

Agenda Questioned

An issue that has presented problems for the Oconee County Board of Commissioners–communication between the chairman and the other four commission members–surfaced again last week.

At the Feb. 28 agenda-setting meeting, Commissioner Chuck Horton and Commissioner Jim Luke complained that they had not been given sufficient advance notice of plans by the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority to purchase additional land for the undeveloped Gateway Business Park on SR 316.

Sunday, March 04, 2012

Nearly All of Oconee County’s Early Voters in Presidential Primary Used Republican Ballot

Different from 2008

Just more than 5 percent of the active registered voters in Oconee County have already cast their ballots in the presidential primaries, for which final voting will take place on Tuesday.

Of the 1,076 votes cast by the end of early voting on Friday, 1,048 (97.4 percent) were cast in the highly contested Republican primary, with the remaining 28 being cast in the Democratic primary, where the only name on the ballot is that of President Barack Obama.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Caterpillar Plant Likely To Be Mostly in Oconee County, To Leave Wetlands Undisturbed

Bogart Gets Piece of Plant

While the 247-acre site for the future Caterpillar plant straddles the Clarke and Oconee county line, most of the actual plant will be in Oconee County, according to a preliminary site plan submitted to the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission.

The plan locates the plant mostly in the western part of the tract on the Bogart line.

It shows entrances to the site off U.S. 78 and U.S. 29.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Candidate Regina Quick Says She Will Seek to Unite Oconee County in a Single House District

Links McKillip to Obama

Regina Quick told Oconee County Republicans earlier this month that the first thing she would do if she is elected to represent the county in the General Assembly in 2013 is introduce legislation to reverse redistricting from 2011 and make Oconee County whole in the 119th House District.

She said she would accomplish this by increasing the size of the Clarke County population in her district, the 117th, and by moving the three precincts in Oconee County now part of the 117th to the 119th.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Oconee County Lowe’s on Epps Bridge Parkway Wants to Change its Parking Lot

Add Two Buildings

Lowe’s Home Center on Epps Bridge Parkway, which lost one entrance when Jennings Mill Parkway was raised, will shift another and alter the traffic pattern for its parking lot if changes recommended by the Oconee County Planning Commission last night are approved by the Board of Commissioners on March 6.

The main entrance to the parking lot off Epps Bridge Parkway will be shifted south, and two out lots will be created on either side of the entrance.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Oconee County Seeking Reissuance of Permit to Discharge Treated Wastewater into Barber Creek

Wants Document in Reserve

Oconee County is seeking to renew its permit to discharge 1 million gallons per day of treated wastewater into Barber Creek, although county Utility Department Director Chris Thomas has indicated he does not plan to use the permit.

In fact, Thomas presented to the Board of Commissioners on July 26 of last year a long-range sewage and water plan that does not include construction of the sewage treatment plant on Rocky Branch Road.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

SPLOST Report Shows Oconee County Has Built Up Surplus from 2004 and 2009 Taxes

Courthouse Money Unspent

Oconee County was sitting on $5.7 million in unspent money collected from the 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax as of June 30 of last year, according to the required report on SPLOST spending filed by the county at the end of 2011.

The county currently is spending revenue from the current SPLOST approved by voters in March of 2009, according to the report.

As of the June 30 date, however, the county had not spent any money from three categories, for Recreation, Historic and Scenic Facilities, for Fire Station Facilities and Equipment, and for Farmland Protection.

Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners Agree to Five-Year Water Contract with Walton County

Act(s) of God Included

In a split vote, the Oconee County Board of Commissioners last night approved a five-year contract to sell Walton County half a million gallons per day of water pumped from Oconee County wells.

Commissioner Chuck Horton, who had said earlier he was inclined to vote against the contract but was willing to hear arguments in its favor, said last night he was concerned because the utility department had changed its position on wells.

Sunday, February 05, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners to Revisit Water Contract With Walton County at Tuesday Night Meeting

Wells and Sales at Issue

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night is scheduled to take up again a proposed contact that would allow Walton County to purchase up to a half million gallons per day of water from Oconee County.

The contract was brought to the Board at its Jan. 24 agenda-setting meeting by County Utility Department Director Chris Thomas.

Wednesday, February 01, 2012

Oconee County Incumbents in 2012 General Assembly Races Have Cash on Hand

McKillip Funded Poll

All three of the current members of the Georgia General Assembly who will be seeking election in Oconee County this year begin the election season with significant funds in their campaign accounts.

Sen. Bill Cowsert had a net balance on hand of $61,248, according to the Campaign Contribution Disclosure Report he filed with the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission on Jan. 7.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Oconee County Voters Will Help Select 76 Delegates In Presidential Primary March 6

Democratic Primary Already Decided

Following the election in Florida on Tuesday, attention will shift significantly to March 6--Super Tuesday-- when Georgia joins six other states in holding presidential primaries.

Barack Obama will be the only name on the Democratic ballot, but the Republican ballot includes the names of nine candidates or former candidates, including the four leading in the polls today nationally and in Florida.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Research Center Staff at the Campbell Center Outside Watkinsville To Be Transferred by June 18

Official Closing Date Not Set

All of the current employees of the J. Phil Campbell Sr. Natural Resource Conservation Center outside Watkinsville received their reassignment letters last week and will be at their new jobs by June 18, a spokesperson for the Agricultural Research Service confirmed today.

ARS, a unit of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has not yet set the final closing date for the 1,107-acre facility, Sandy Miller Hays, director of ARS Information, told me in an email message today.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Zoom Bait/St. Mary’s Sewer Line Likely to Be Resurrected after Oconee County Sewer Plan Vote

Water for Walton Controversial

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners last night gave tentative approval to a list of water and sewer projects for the next two years that included an extension of a sewer line along McNutt Creek.

The Board didn’t determine which of three proposed segments of that sewer line it was funding, but Chris Thomas, Utility Department director, told me after the meeting he expects to start on the segment between Jennings Mill Road and an existing pump station near Epps Bridge Parkway.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Oconee County Commissioners to Review Two-Year Water and Sewer Plan at Tuesday Meeting

Barber Creek Sewage Plant Off List

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night is scheduled to review water and wastewater treatment project priorities for the county as part of a proposed 2013-2014 Water and Sewer Improvements Plan.

Included will be a sewage line that could serve Zoom Bait, St. Mary’s Health Care and the Gordy tract, this time as part of a larger project providing sewage services in the northwestern part of the county, including Bogart.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Challenger Simpson Tells Oconee County Republicans Rep. Paul Broun is Out Of Touch

Also Uninvolved

In his first formal campaign presentation in incumbent Congressman Paul Broun’s home county, challenger Stephen Simpson tonight said Broun is not representing those who elected him and is absent when important business is being conducted in the country.

“We need someone who genuinely cares about his country and his constituents,” Simpson told about 30 persons attending an Oconee County Republican Party meeting. Simpson said Broun “is out of touch” with those who elected him.

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Oconee County Less Conservative Than Its Reputation, Survey Finds

Not Tea Party Heaven

Oconee County has a reputation as a bastion of conservative Republicanism.

WGAU newsman Tim Bryant even referred to the county as “Tea Party heaven” in an interview he did on his Newsmakers program on Dec. 15.

But the characterization misses some subtleties about political sentiment in the county, a survey conducted by students in a graduate research methods class in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia shows.