Given the costs of paying for the enticements to bring Caterpillar to the area, the need for new judicial facilities, and the plans to build new roads and maintain the existing ones, Oconee County commissioners should consider an increase in the county’s property tax rate.
That was the message of Wes Geddings, county finance director, in the opening session of a day-long planning meeting held by the Oconee Board of Commissioners at a conference venue in Athens-Clarke County today.
None of the other four commissioners spoke in favor of a tax increase, but none of them spoke against it.
The commissioners heard a long list of needs and wants as the day progressed, and they are likely to hear more tomorrow, as the planning session goes into its second and final day.
Question And One Answer
Geddings explained to the commissioners that they depended on sales tax, fees, and property tax as the sources of their revenues. The property tax rate has been unchanged for eight years, he said.
“My consideration question,” he said, “is this mill rate set at a level to secure future projects?”
Commissioner Luke responded to Geddings’ suggestion by saying he was going on the record in support of a millage rate increase to support infrastructure.
The county sold bonds in February of 2012 to borrow $10.4 million for the Caterpillar project expenses, including preparation of the site and construction of the roadway system to it.
As part of the agreement to bring the manufacturer to the area, both Oconee County and Athens-Clarke County agreed to waive property taxes for 20 years on the facility–which straddles the county line--and on manufacturing equipment in the plant.
Geddings told the commissioners in the initial session this morning that the county has been making payments on the debt with money generated by the bonds themselves, but after the payment this March 1, the county will have used up those funds.
The county will need to begin making payments of $700,000 annually next year, so those payments must be incorporated into the fiscal year 2015-2016 budget, which the commissioners will begin considering in the next few months.
Those debt payments will continue for 20 years.
The list of additional financial needs spelled out by Geddings was quite lengthy.
He said health care costs for county employees are expected to go up 15 to 20 percent.
He endorsed a request by Public Works Director Emil Beshara to bring the funding of the Public Works Department up to $2 million for road maintenance and repair by adding about $500,000 to the money coming from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
He also said the county was going to need another $10 million for other road projects, including construction of Parkway Boulevard, the Daniells Bridge Road extension and flyover, the Daniells Bridge Road widening, and the Jimmy Daniell Road widening.
The county also needs $4.5 million for an upgrade of Calls Creek water treatment plant outside Watkinsville, Geddings said.
And it needs new judicial facilities. He didn’t offer a price tag for that item, but Superior Court Judge David Sweat has used $25 million as an estimate.
Geddings’ session lasted 90 minutes and was followed by a presentation by B.R. White, director of the county’s planning and code enforcement offices.
White, whose session lasted 75 minutes, made a modest request for software for his office, but he didn’t have a firm indication of costs.
Utility Department Director Chris Thomas, who also was to speak for 75 minutes, ran long. He used some of his time to make a case for the new sewage plant on Calls Creek.
Beshara also was allotted 75 minutes. He used that time in part to make the case for increased roadway funding.
The final 75-minute-session was devoted to parks and recreation. John Gentry, director of the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department, said the county was going to face increased demands for park facilities and programs as the county’s population grows.
Jim Dove, executive director of the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission, opened the session at 8:30 this morning and served as moderator throughout the day.
The session was held at the conference room of NEGRC, which is located at 305 Research Drive, which runs from College Station Road to Barnett Shoals 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 four citizens–Sarah Bell, former commissioner Chuck Horton, Russ Page, and I–attended. Bell, Page and I were there to video record the sessions, which were not otherwise to be recorded. Reporters for The Oconee Enterprise and The Oconee Leader came by in the afternoon.
The commissioners, at the invitation of Dove, left the conference room to have lunch in another room in the NEGRC facility, but Bell and I, the only two citizens present as the group broke up, were told by Dove we were to wait in the conference room until the commissioners reappeared for the afternoon sessions.
Representatives of the Fire Department, the Information Technology Department, the Human Resources Department, and the Strategic and Long Range Planning Department are scheduled to speak tomorrow.
After these presentations, the schedule calls for an open discussion of other topics and the a summary of the two days of dialog.
Dove told the commissioners today he and assistant Mott Beck would create a summary of the two days of meetings for the commissioners.
Dove and Beck made notes on large sheets of paper during the discussions and then pasted those on the conference room walls as the day progressed.
Video Of Full Day
The video from the morning session is below, followed by the video for the afternoon session. All video from the session are available on the Oconee County Observations Vimeo site.