Saturday, January 17, 2015

Oconee County Board Of Commissioners Holding Planning Sessions This Week In Athens

NEGRC Conference Room

Oconee County Commissioners are to hold what are being called planning sessions from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Thursday and Friday.

The meetings will be held in Athens, in the conference room of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, 305 Research Drive, which runs from College Station Road to Barnett Shoals Road.

Commissioners will discuss and set priorities for upcoming capital projects and consider possible policy changes, according to Jeff Benko, administrative officer for the county.

The meetings are open to the public, as required by law, but the agenda does not include any opportunity for citizens to speak.

Benko said the county does not plan to make a video or audio record of the meeting.

Agenda Released

County Clerk Jane Greathouse released the agenda for the meeting on Wednesday.

It includes presentations to the commissioners on Thursday from representatives of the county’s Finance Department, Planning Department, Utility Department, Public Works Department, and Parks and Recreation Department.

Likely On Agenda

On Friday, presentations will be made on behalf of the Fire Department, the Information and Technology Department, the Human Resources Department, and the Strategic and Long Range Planning Department.

The agenda does not give any hints about contents of those presentations.

“The Board felt it has strategic issues and challenges coming up in the next one to four years and next 10 years,” Benko told me in a telephone conversation on Friday.

Among those issues are decisions on how to allocate funds for a variety of capital projects, Benko said.

New Commissioner

W.E. “Bubber” Wilkes rejoined the Board of Commissioners earlier this month after an absence of 10 years. He defeated Margaret Hale in the July Republican primary runoff.

Benko said the session would give the new Commission a chance to hear from key department heads in an informal setting.

It also will give BOC Chairman Melvin Davis a chance to voice his priorities. Davis is chairman of the Commission, but he votes only to break ties.

The agenda for the meeting on Thursday was prepared by Kathy Hayes, the executive assistant to Davis and the deputy county clerk, according to the released document.

Davis’ Priorities

Davis took the unusual step of listing his priorities for Commission action in his Dec. 31 County Talk column, which appears in The Oconee Enterprise and on the county web site.

Davis wrote that the “Board of Commissioners should review and begin making plans” in a variety of areas.

Included was expansion of the county’s “wastewater treatment capacity and facilities” and taking steps to “maximize our water resources” through the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir under construction in Walton County.

“At some point, the Board of Commissioners will need to address future courthouse and administrative space needs,” Davis wrote. He asked: “Do we need to purchase extra land for future space?”

Those projects all have large price tags, with a wastewater treatment plant listed at about $40 million, construction of a water treatment facility and distribution lines for Hard Labor Creek costing about $85 million, and a new judicial facility about $25 million.

New Park Land

Davis said the commissioners also should consider “land for future recreational facilities similar to Oconee Veterans Park” and making investments in “road improvement infrastructure.”

He noted that the county already is involved in the acquisition of right of way for widening of Experiment Station Road from Hog Mountain Road to U.S. 441. The county gets reimbursement for the right of way purchases but not for the costs of administering the process.

“Oconee County must continue to maximize our opportunity to add commercial, retail and industrial business,” Davis wrote.

Along those lines, Davis proposed that the BOC should create a zoning overlay district for Mars Hill Road “to allow development to meet criteria for location in the area.”

Restaurants With Alcohol Here?

The widening of Mars Hill Road won’t be complete for another three years, but Davis actively has been promoting commercial development along it.

He argued unsuccessfully earlier this month that the Commissioners expand the area in which alcohol can be sold so that restaurants could locate along a significant stretch of the roadway north and south of Dooley Boulevard.

Meeting Venue

Benko said the county chose the NEGRC venue for the meeting to get the commissioners away from their phones and staff interference.

Two Januaries ago, the Commission held what it called a “visioning session” in the community center in Veterans Park.

The BOC has held more remote “retreats” in the past, including one in 2007 in Madison, for which little public notice was given.

“I wanted to have it somewhat local if anyone wants to attend,” Benko said of the decision to hold the meetings on Thursday and Friday in Athens.

Recordings On Vimeo

Benko said the meetings would not be recorded by the county because he didn’t want the commissioners to be influenced by the camera and because he isn’t sure the NEGRC facility has recording capability.

He also said he didn’t want to impose on NEGRC by asking it to make any recording.

Benko said so far NEGRC has not indicated how much, if anything, it will charge for use of the conference room and for providing lunches and coffee each day.

Sarah Bell, Russ Page and I plan to attend and video record the meetings and post the recordings to the Oconee County Observations channel on Vimeo.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you Mr. Becker. You, Ms. Bell, and Mr. Page are the "eyes and ears" for those of us who can't go.