The Oconee County Board of Commissioners ended its two-day planning session on Friday pretty much where it started the day before in terms of the future of the Courthouse, which it also acknowledged is one of the most pressing issues facing the Board and the county.
Commissioner Jim Luke said at the end of the day that he is very concerned about the county’s space issues but that he didn’t think the Board was close to finding any solutions.
Davis has consistently focused on the purchase of land for a new facility, while other commissioners have offered plans for making use of the 39 buildings the county already owns or leases.
The discussion ended with the commissioners only agreeing that they have a problem they need to address.
Wes Geddings, finance director for the county, reminded the commissioners in the very first session of the two-day gathering on Thursday that it is likely the county will be asked to house a new judge for the Western Circuit of the 10th Judicial Administrative District of Georgia.
The Western Circuit consists of Oconee County and Clarke County, and the three seated Superior Court Judges currently are housed in Athens-Clarke County.
The decision to assign a new judge could be made as soon as during the current legislative session underway in Atlanta.
This could be the “proverbial straw that breaks the camels back,” Geddings said, as seating a new judge would make it unlikely that the county also could continue to house administrative offices in the Courthouse.
Geddings gave no estimate of the cost resulting from this change, but Chief Superior Court Judge David Sweat has said a new judicial facility–which is what he has proposed–would cost about $25 million.
During the morning session on Friday, the commissioners heard presentations from representatives of the Fire Department and from the Information Technology Department.
In the afternoon, they heard from the Human Resources Department and the Strategic and Long-Range Planning Department.
Throughout the two-day sessions, the commissioners were presented with a long list of wants and needs of the county.
They also were told there is not enough money to address all of the items on the and that a property tax increase should to be considered.
During the closing session on Friday afternoon, the commissioners were given a chance by Jim Dove, executive director of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, to raise additional items for consideration.
Luke raised the issue of the Courthouse at that time.
Commissioner Bubber Wilkes agreed with Luke that the issue was a top concern, and Commissioner Mark Saxon said he thought it was possible to use existing space to meet county needs.
Chairman Davis had a long list of additional items for consideration, one of which was unexpected.
Davis has not been a supporter of the transfer of development rights programs in the past, but he said the commissioners should consider them now.
A TDR program is a complex zoning strategy to protect undeveloped land in certain designated areas from development.
Future Discussion Proposed
Davis told county Administrative Officer Jeff Benko that he liked Benko’s suggestion that each commissioner get a summary of the two days of discussions as a way of helping to make decisions about county priorities.
Davis said the commissioners, after reviewing that summary, should then meet and agree the most pressing needs.
Despite that suggestion, County Clerk Jane Greathouse released an agenda later in the day on Friday for tomorrow night’s Board of Commissioners meeting that includes a vote on moving forward with two projects that were part of a long list of road projects discussed by the commissioners during the two-day planning session.
The vote tomorrow night would commit the county to a fixed timetable for those projects, both involving Daniells Bridge Road, and for spending money on them.
Both projects have been championed by Davis in the past but have not been supported by the other commissioners.
The meetings took place at the NEGRC facility, 305 Research Drive, in Athens-Clarke County. County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko said he selected the site to get the commissioners away from their phones and staff interference.
Only a small number of citizens attended. Sarah Bell, Russ Page and I made sure each of the sessions was video recorded by at least one of us, since Benko had indicated that neither the county nor NEGRC would make a recording.
The commissioners left the conference room each day to have lunch in another room in the NEGRC complex, and we were told by Dove we were not invited to join the lunches, making it impossible for us to make a recording of them.
Such an exclusion is prohibited by state law, but, so as not to be disruptive, we did not challenge the decision. (State law does exempt from the open meetings act events that are "social, ceremonial, civic or religious" if "no official business, policy, or public matter is formulated, presented, discussed, or voted upon.")
The full video of the morning session is below, followed by the afternoon session.