Anyone who turned out at the called meeting of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners last night expecting a discussion of how the county is going to address future space needs would have been disappointed.
What the small group in attendance heard instead was presentations by an elected official and by representatives of eight county departments of what their current space use is and what they think they will need in 2035.
Almost all said they would need additional space in the future.
The meeting ended without any discussion of what the county should do in response.
Davis Led Meeting
From the beginning of the meeting, Board of Commissioners Chairman Melvin Davis led the discussion by telling presenters that the state Office of Planning Budget was projecting that the county would have 65,000 residents in 2030, up from the 34,035 figure the U.S. Census Bureau estimated for 2013.
Other figures were bounced around during the nearly three-hour session, with county Finance Director Wes Geddings projecting 2.5 percent growth to 58,730 in 2035, rather than the 65,000 figure for 2030 that Davis used. Geddings said his figure “would be a maximum, I think.”
Davis pushed the idea of growth throughout the evening, and encouraged comparisons with other counties.
Walton County was mentioned many times. The brief exchange between Davis and Oconee County Tax Commissioner Jennifer Riddle at the very beginning of the evening is illustrative. Riddle is an elected official.
Walton County had a population of 85,754 in 2013, according to the Census Bureau. It opened a large courthouse on the outskirts of Monroe in 2005.
Chief Superior Court Judge David Sweat, who attended the meeting last night but did not speak, told the commissioners this time last year that they need to increase judicial space to accommodate the expected appointment of a new Superior Court judge.
Judge Sweat proposed a new judicial facility, which also has been supported by Oconee County Sheriff Scott Berry. Berry has said that the current Courthouse has obvious and unspecified security problems.
Judge Sweat estimated the cost of such a new facility at $25 million.
The called meeting last night was the result of a complaint by Commissioner John Daniell at the group’s Nov. 11 meeting that the BOC was making no progress on the Courthouse issue and on dealing with the county’s future space needs.
The presentation by Riddle was followed by appearance by representatives of the Property Appraisal Department, Information Technology, the Finance Department, Human Resources, the offices of Davis and the commissioners, the Economic Development Department, Strategic and Long-Range Planning, and Planning and Code Enforcement.
The nine presenters said they are using 14,258 square feet of space.
They said they would need 25,596 square feet in 20 years, or an increase of nearly 80 percent.
Only County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko, representing Davis and the Commission, said he did not anticipate needing more space by 2035.
Marvin Poe, director of the county’s Facilities and Operations Department, provided the commissioners prior to last night’s meeting a listing of current courthouse space and its use.
By Poe’s estimates, the Courthouse has 39,563 square feet on its three levels. That includes office space, courtroom and other meeting rooms, hallways and other public space.
In addition, the county leases 9,216 in the two buildings that make up the Courthouse Annex, across Main Street from the Courthouse in downtown Watkinsville.
These are referred to as the Dolvin Buildings, and Code Enforcement and Planning are in the larger of the two.
Poe told me in an email message today that the Government Annex, located on Greensboro Highway on the south side of Watkinsville, has approximately 20,000 square feet of space
USDA And Annex
The Government Annex is home to the county’s Utility Department and Public Works Department.
In addition, the county entered into a 10-year lease agreement with the United States Department of Agriculture for a little more than 3,000 square feet of space in the Annex in August of 2013.
The county spent $33,000 in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax money renovating the space to meet USDA specifications.
Commissioner Daniell was an opponent of that decision, promoted by Chairman Davis.
Daniell argued that the lease tied the county’s hands as it searched for solutions to its space needs.