Thursday, January 22, 2015

Oconee County Commissioners Told They Should Consider Increasing Property Taxes This Year

One Commissioner Speaks For Increase

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.

Commissioner Jim Luke responded by saying he would support an increase in property taxes if the money were earmarked for specific needs, such as for road construction and improvements.

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?”

OCO: Geddings on Millage Rate from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Commissioner Luke responded to Geddings’ suggestion by saying he was going on the record in support of a millage rate increase to support infrastructure.

OCO: Luke On Millage Rate from Lee Becker on Vimeo.

Caterpillar Costs

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.

Other Expenses

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.

Meeting Structure

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.

OCO: Planning 1 22 15 Part I from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

Now the bills come due for the Caterpillar deal after all the self promoting,self congratulations and chest thumping by the Board of Commissioners. Now we get to pay Caterpillar's property taxes. This planning session is just a way to lay the ground work for more tax and spend by a bunch of Republicans. Who needs a bunch of Republians to raise taxes? Democrats raise taxes, Republicans do not.

Dark Horse said...

Republicans AND Democrats raise taxes. Government equals waste and corruption. The only way to limit waste and corruption in government is to limit government itself.
What Wes Geddings didn't mention when he said the millage rate hasn't been raised in 8 years, is how much the dollar amount collected has gone up anyway due to new construction and increases overall in property values.
Government reps are very free with spending but would change their tune if they had to look at it like a family budget, as the rest of us must.
We have enough taxes and the rates are as high as they should go. If they need more money, they should look within by becoming more efficient, less wasteful and more judicious about giving away our hard earned tax dollars.
Any politician touting the benefits of raising our taxes should be taken out and horse whipped.

Anonymous said...

Dark Horse, I couldn't have said it better myself. I am SO TIRED of the "spending politicians", while we, the public, have to pinch pennies every way we can. GIVE US A BREAK! The politician who is doing a good job, in these times, would be the one who is finding ways to make it a little easier financially on the constituents. I would jump at the opportunity to vote for him/her.

Anonymous said...

Go ahead Melvin Davis...raise taxes...and you'll finally be voted out of office, no more big fish in a small pound.

The Caterpillar inticements were supposed to help bring in a bunch of suppliers and generate more tax revenue.

The promises you made, Mr. Melvin Davis, have not come to fruition. Do you have the professionalism and personal ethics to admit you were wrong? Or will you spin, spin, spin?

Beanne said...

I agree with all of you. Republicans are just as tax happy as democrats. They just say they aren't and people believe what they say for some reason unknown to me. Of course, Caterpillar was going to cost a fortune. It was supposed to add people who would pay taxes, but this was unlikely from the start. Just like all arguments for development - it will lower property taxes. But of course it always increases them.