Monday, April 28, 2014

More SPLOST Money May Be Needed For Courthouse Security, Oconee County Commissioners Told

Turnout Low At Hearing

Only about 20 people turned out tonight at the third meeting on proposed projects for the Oconee County 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.

And only four citizens spoke, with one advocating for spending for the libraries and another calling for funding for farmland protection and historic preservation.

The third speaker asked for money for renovation of the Civic Center. The fourth wanted increased spending on the courthouse.

Page Calls For Historic Preservation

That fourth speaker, T.J. BeMent, court administrator for the 10th Judicial Administrative District of Georgia, produced the only surprise of the evening.

BeMent told the Board of Commissioners that the $2.7 million it is considering for courthouse security improvements from the 2004 SPLOST may not be enough, and additional money may need to be taken from the 2015 SPLOST.

Benko Gave Summary

County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko gave an overview of SPLOST requests and of the tentative agreement the Commissioners reached on allocations at a meeting on March 3.

Benko then opened the floor for comments from the audience.

Robert Wyatt, a member the Library Advisory Board, made a plea for spending for the county’s libraries, repeating arguments he has made in earlier SPLOST hearings.

Russ Page, a farmland and historic preservation advocate, made an impassioned plea for an increase in funding for farmland protection and for inclusion of money for preservation of historic sites in the county.

The BOC at the meeting on March 3 cut Page’s request for farmland protection and denied entirely his request for funding for historic preservation projects.

Shane Hannon, representing the Oconee Youth Playhouse, argued for renovation of the dressing rooms at the Civic Center.

The BOC has indicated it is interested in spending between $1 million and $2.5 million on the Civic Center.

David Sweat Request

BeMent thanked the Board for including $475,000 in its tentative spending plans for judicial court technology.

But BeMent said that the request that Judge David Sweat, chief superior court justice for Oconee County, had made for a $25 million new courthouse or judicial facility was a serious one.

He said that he soon would be asking the BOC for money to study more closely the security needs for the courthouse, given that the BOC has indicated it does not want to put money into a new courthouse at this time.

In addition to the $2.7 million pledged from the 2004 SPLOST, BeMent said, “There may be some additional dollars that we may make those necessary security enhancements.”

Those funds could come from SPLOST 2015 or other sources, he said. And he said he will be coming forward with more concrete figures “in the next month.”

Fourth And Final

The next chance citizens will have to voice their preferences on projects to be included in the November referendum on the 1 percent sales tax will be at 6 p.m. on May 12 in Courtroom Number 1 at the courthouse in Watkinsville.

The Commissioners are to hold a work session on May 21 to weigh public comments and reach their own consensus on the project list for the referendum.

The BOC is then to discuss the list at its regular meeting on May 27 and finalize that list at its meeting on June 3.

Tonight’s meeting was held at the Civic Center. It lasted just less than 40 minutes.

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