The Oconee County Board of Commissioners agreed after a five-hour meeting last night to a tentative list of spending priorities for the planned 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Whether the agreement will be sufficient to result in a vote to put the issue on the May 20 ballot only will be known at the regular BOC meeting tonight, which starts at 7 p.m. at the courthouse, and which includes further discussion of the tax referendum.
|Commissioners In Grand Jury Room|
At the meeting last night, the Commissioners agreed to strike the $25 million request for a new courthouse from the SPLOST project list entirely, deciding instead to direct $2.7 million from unspent SPLOST 2004 funds to a security fix for the courthouse.
They gave Sheriff Scott Berry $5.2 million of the $5.5 million he requested, funded the full request of $12 million for transportation infrastructure, set aside $10 million for water and sewer projects, rather than the requested $13 million, and gave the parks and recreation programs $8.5 of the $10 million requested.
Cuts To Library
The Commissioners cut the request of the Library Board from $5.5 million to $2 million, though they decided to allocated another $1 million from the unspent 2004 SPLOST funds for library expansion.
They cut the request of fire and rescue from $5 million to $3.3 million and set aside the requested $2 million for facility upgrade and repair around the county.
They gave the court system the full $475,000 it requested for technology but cut the request of the Industrial Development Authority from $4.7 million to $850,000.
The five commissioners also reduced the request for farmland protection from $2 million to $500,000. (A chart showing requests is at the bottom of this post.)
The Commissioners decided to give no money to Animal Control, which sought $500,000, nothing to the coroner, who asked for $55,000, nothing to the Georgia Patrol, which asked for $2 million, and nothing to historic preservation, for which $500,000 had been requested.
The Commissioners decided to allocate somewhere between $1 million and $2.5 million to the Civic Center, based on receipt of additional information on options.
All of the roughly $100 million in requests before the BOC came from elected officials, department heads or county committees except for the citizen requests of Russ Page for farmland protection and historic preservation.
The total figure of $47.3 million, based on the high estimate for the Civic Center, reached the goal set by the Commissioners, based on anticipated revenue from the 1 percent sales tax.
The special meeting was agreed to by the BOC members after Commissioners John Daniell, Margaret Hale and Jim Luke said at last week’s meeting that they felt that they were being asked to move too quickly to get the SPLOST referendum on the May 20 ballot.
The discussion last night suggested little had changed, as each of these three again said that the process was being hurried.
Daniell said repeatedly during the meeting he lacked information to make decisions on a number of requests, including for a fix of the problems at the Animal Control facility south of Farmington.
Commission Chairman Melvin Davis pushed hard last night for agreement on the list of projects to be listed in the ballot language, calling repeatedly for a number he could write down reflecting a consensus.
Commissioner Mark Saxon said last week he is ready to go forward with the vote. If one of the other three votes with him tonight, Davis can break the tie in favor of the May election date.
Crammed Meeting Room
The Commissioners moved out of the Commission Chamber into the Grand Jury Room so they could sit around a table and discuss the requests before them.
The room filled to capacity by the time the meeting started, with people standing outside in the hall. Many of the 25 present were department heads or elected officials, but a number of citizens were in attendance as well.
During the deliberations, the Commissioners talked among themselves, with Davis and Luke often speaking in a low voice. Blake Giles, editor of The Oconee Enterprise, spoke out early in the meeting saying “You all are going to be misquoted unless you speak up.”
“You’ll have to listen carefully, my friend,” Davis said. “I’m not talking to you. I’m talking to these Board of Commissioners.”