The Oconee County Board of Commissioners spent just less than five hours today in a “visioning” session at Veterans Park, discussing topics from zoning, sewerage treatment, traffic, Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax initiatives, citizen advisory committee membership, and farmland protection.
Nothing concrete was decided at the meeting, and, in fact, BOC Chairman Melvin Davis warned that the comments of commissioners should be taken as preliminary, rather than “the final thoughts” on any given issue.
Davis said the commissioners had the advantage of working with a “blank pad,” since the county is just coming out of a slow growth period, and that situation contrasted with what was transpiring at past sessions, when growth was fast and problems were pressing.
Davis said the session was designed to allow the commissioners to “get a general idea on the direction of Oconee County.”
Davis told the few citizens present–a total of six attended during the day–that they were not going to be given a chance to talk, and they were not.
Davis said the BOC valued citizen input and would seek it at some point in the future.
Chairman Led Discussion
Davis led the discussion, designed in part to introduce new Commissioner Mark Saxon to the issues before the county and to allow the other commissioners to hear Saxon’s opinions.
Saxon did more listening than talking. Davis and commissioners John Daniell, Margaret Hale and Jim Luke were more outspoken.
The five were joined at the session by County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko, County Clerk Jane Greathouse and County Attorney Daniel Haygood.
Advanced Zoning Discussed
The Board discussed the possibility of advance zoning properties in the county it wants to be developed.
Davis said he felt the top road improvement project for the county was widening of Daniells Bridge Road, which will get increased use when–at some unknown time–the state comes up with the money to widen Mars Hill Road.
The group discussed opening a roadway through the dormant Parkside project to connect Mars Hill Road with Hog Mountain Road and relieve existing traffic. It also wanted to explore creating another entrance to Veterans Park from that roadway.
Davis said he felt the proposed U.S. 441 bypass of Bishop was out of the question for the near future because of limited state funds and high costs.
Luke: Consider Sewer Option
Commissioner Luke said the county needs to begin study of sewage treatment options, including building a plant on the Middle Oconee River rather than upgrading the existing plants.
Commissioner Luke also said the county needs to decide how it plans to spend the $3.6 million in unspent funds for county facilities in the 2004 SPLOST budget before discussion gets underway on a new SPLOST in 2015.
Davis suggested the county consider enlarging the Civic Center and raised questions about what should be done with the Daniell home off Daniells Bridge Road at the front of Settlers Ridge.
Davis also raised the question of a new park for the county.
More Town Hall Meetings Proposed
The group agreed that it should hold more town hall meetings, probably at least three per year.
Luke suggested they be rotated to reach citizens in different areas of the county.
Luke also suggested that more effort be made to recruit a diverse pool of applicants for the county’s citizen committees.
After considerable discussion, the group decided to consider creating a new committee to discuss how to spend the 2009 SPLOST funds set aside for farmland protection.
Budget Process Discussed
Davis asked if everyone was happy with the procedures now being followed as the county creates its budget. On the initiative of the four commissioners, the process was opened up in recent years to involve those four in addition to Davis.
Davis said he was now satisfied with the process, and the others agreed.
Daniell asked that citizens be given more information on the budget via the county web site as the process moves forward, and Benko agreed to make that happen.
The implications of the Caterpillar plant now under constructions on the east side of Bogart came up many times during the discussion.
Haygood told the group that, had the property that Caterpillar selected not been zoned in advance for that use, the project would have fallen through.
Commissioner Daniell said he felt the county needed to get additional properties zoned now for projects in the future.
Russ Page, Sarah Bell and I were among the citizens present at the session in the Veterans Park Community Center. We made a full video of the meeting. It is available on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.
Oconee is most fortunate to have a process to even acknowledge having a vision, and getting it documented for a vitally interested populace to comment upon and hold leaders accountable.
Having lived and traveled most of NW GA the last year, where it is obvious there is no plan, vision, attention or concern for planning, there is a difference in balancing quality of living with opportunity for growth at any price.
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