Twenty-two speakers last night made their pitches to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners, arguing that the projects they favored should be funded by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax scheduled to be on the May 20 ballot.
Many of those who spoke advocated for more than one project, with 11 speaking up for farmland protection, seven for funding for recreation projects, and five each for monies for the libraries and for historic preservation.
Robin Stevens, 1311 Skipstone Drive, outside Watkinsville, shown in the video below, was one of those speaking for parks and recreation project and increased tennis facilities in particular.
Parks and Recreation Department Director John Gentry emphasized the broad support for the $5.5 million request he put forward, saying it represented input from surveys of and multiple discussions with a large number of residents.
Coroner Ed Carson made the case for his request for $55,000 for a modified transport van he said he needs to provide services to the county.
Rick Waller, chairman of the county’s Industrial Development Authority, said he knew the Commissioners had a difficult task in deciding among all of the requests and the IDA, which asked for $4.7 million, would be happy with “whatever our share is” of the money allocated.
Courthouse Comes Up
The first speaker, former Commissioner Chuck Horton, cautioned the Commissioners about the request for $25 million for a new judicial facility or courthouse.
“I’ve heard very little as to what the plan is,” Horton said. “I see your request for $25 million for a judicial center. What I don’t see is the ripple effect. What happens to the current courthouse? What happens to the Annex? Who exactly is going to be using that facility? I’ve heard nothing.”
Four persons subsequently spoke in favor of the courthouse, but they were endorsing a plan put forward by architect Robert Smith for a new downtown government complex in Watkinsville that is not before the Commissioners.
Superior Court Judge David Sweat, who attended last night’s meeting but did not speak, has said the judicial branch needs a new facility, estimated to cost $25 million, but he has not said where it should be located.
Sheriff Scott Berry, who has teamed with Sweat in making the request for the judicial facility, advocated for its location at the jail on Experiment Station Road before the Land Use and Transportation Planning committee in 2010.
Davis Gave Schedule
The session was attended by the five Commissioners and by Watkinsville Mayor Charles Ivie.
The county’s four cities–Watkinsville, Bogart, North High Shoals and Bishop--will get shares of the tax revenue, but they were not the focus of the pitches last night.
Speakers were talking about how the county allocates its 86 percent share.
The final speaker last night, Mark Capobianco, 1680 Mayne Mill Road outside Farmington, asked the Commissioners to put off the vote on the SPLOST to the November election, saying the Board needed time to separate “wants” from “needs.”
BOC Chairman Melvin Davis, taking the podium after Capobianco spoke, ignored his suggestion and told the audience that the schedule calls for Commissioners to set the priorities for the projects in the time remaining before their March 4 meeting when they are scheduled to vote to put the issue on the May 20 ballot.
Format Same As In January
More than 80 people attended this, the second and final session scheduled for public input. The session lasted 1 hours and 40 minutes, with 75 minutes of that consumed by comments from the public.
Speakers mostly asked for funding for the library projects, for parks and recreation, and for farmland protection at the first session on January 13 as well. About 50 people attended that session.
County Administrative Officer began last night by summarizing the requests being made of the BOC, as he did at the Jan. 13 session.
Benko said new requests by citizen activist Russ Page for $2 million for farmland protection and $500,000 for historic preservation brought the total being requested of the county to more than $100 million.
The remaining requests come from county department heads and elected officials.
The PowerPoint presentation used by Benko is on the county web site.
County Expecting To Fund $38 In Requests
The county is projecting revenue from the SPLOST, which will start at the end of 2015, to be $55 million. The county’s share of that will be about $47 million. The tax adds 1 percent to purchases made in the county.
The county usually budgets based on it collecting only 80 percent of the projected amount. If that formula is used again this year, as Benko has said will be the case, the actual amount of money to be allocated to the $100 million in requests is less than $38 million.
Most of those commenting last night focused on farmland protection, recreation, the libraries, and historic preservation.
Horton asked the Commissioners to look favorably on the request for renovation or expansion of the Civic Center. The Center has requested up to $12 million, with construction of a new facility listed as one option.
I delivered a statement endorsed by myself and the three other members of the Board of Directors of the Friends of Barber Creek, asking the Commissioners to fund a new sewerage treatment plant on the Middle Oconee River. The Utility Department has asked for $13,050,000 from SPLOST 2015 for sewer and water upgrades.
(I also personally spoke in favor of funding farmland protection and historic preservation.)
Davis On Study
At the beginning of the session Chairman Davis told the audience that county staff had just conducted “an unofficial survey” of the license plates “of various parking lots that do business in Oconee County.”
He didn’t identify those parking lots, though he did say the survey was conducted at various times of the day and on various days of the week.
“The survey showed,” Davis said, “that 71.6 percent of those car tags were not Oconee County car tags. And that’s pretty dadgummed good.”
Davis went on to say he appreciated what “--I guess you would call them nonresidents--” contribute to the revenue of the county through their purchases at Oconee County businesses.
“Of course always we want to say we want to buy local,” Davis said.
The video of Davis’ comments is below.