Monday, May 25, 2015

Oconee County Withholds Information On Budget Prior To Hearing On Tuesday

Meeting at 6:30 p.m.

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners released information Friday on the three applicants for the two openings on the county’s Farmland Preservation Ranking Committee and revealed that it had no applicants for the single opening on the Keep Oconee Beautiful Commission.

In preparation for its meeting tomorrow night, the Board identified James “J.R.” Charles as the finalist for appointment as the county’s economic development director.

And it released details of proposed changes to the county’s sign ordinance and to the water and wastewater ordinance, provided the bids for construction of the McNutt Creek Sewer Connector, and gave details of the quit claim deed for conveyance of the Bishop Center to the town of Bishop.

All of this information was put on the county’s web site on Friday, but the county released no information on the county’s proposed 2016 fiscal year budget.

This was the case even though the Board of Commissioners will hold a public hearing tomorrow night on the budget, which is likely to include water and sewer rates increases and some form of a property tax increase.

That public hearing is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m. at the courthouse in Watkinsville, followed by the regular 7 p.m. agenda setting meeting.

Last Year

Last year the BOC followed this same pattern for the public hearing.

County Finance Director Wes Geddings gave a PowerPoint presentation of the budget at the hearing, taking up most of the half hour set aside for the session.

Details of last year's budget were not put onto the county web site until the next morning.

Citizens didn’t comment at the actual hearing, since all they had to comment upon was the PowerPoint they had just seen.

Budget Questions

One question that will be resolved by Geddings’ presentation on tomorrow night is whether the commissioners are going to increase water rates for the eighth year in a row and sewer rates for the seventh.

County Utility Department Director Chris Thomas has proposed to the Board that it raise water and sewer rates by 3 percent.

The public also will learn how the commissioners have bridged the $2.8 million gap between requested expenditures and projected revenues.

Geddings 1/22/2015

The gap results in part from the need to make the first payment from the county’s general fund on the $10.4 million bond used to finance the enticement package for Caterpillar. That figure will be $450,000 this year but will go up to $700,000 next and remain at that level through 2034.

Geddings, County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko and BOC Chairman Melvin Davis have all discussed a millage rate increase as one way to fund this and other county projects.

In addition, Davis has proposed a 3 percent salary increase for county employees, which would increase the budget gap by $345,000.

Tax Increase Possibilities

The Board could decide to increase the property tax millage rate from its current level of 6.686 in the unincorporated parts of the county and 7.666 in the county’s four cities.

Such an increase would bring in more revenue to the county.

But even if the county does not increase the millage rate, the county could gain revenue–and residents would pay higher property taxes–because of the increased valuation of property in the county coming out of the recession.

The BOC could reduce the millage rate to offset this increase in the value of property, as it did last year.

The overall tax digest in the county–the value of county property--is expected to go up more than 6 percent, but Geddings said in the last public discussion of the county budget on March 25 that he was using the 6 percent figure because not all land is taxed.

The Caterpillar property, as one example, is owned by the county’s Industrial Development Authority, which does not pay property taxes.

County and school property, as well as church property, also is not taxed.

Agenda Page

The county releases information it wants to share with citizens on Friday prior to the usual Tuesday BOC meetings.

This is done via an Agenda Page on an inside page of the county web site.

The agenda page released on Friday did not include any links for the sole item on the agenda for the public hearing--the budget.

But it included linked information for 14 of the 15 items with fixed topics on the agenda of the regular meeting .

The sole exception was the presentation of budget details by Geddings in that regular meeting.

Personnel Matters

The agenda did indicate that Beverly Rollins, 2220 Salem Road, south of Farmington, Sam Mitchell, with a Farmington post office address, and Thomas Verner, 1190 Saint Andrews Drive, near Bogart, have applied for the Farmland Preservation Ranking Committee.

Rollins is a farmer, retired from real estate sales. Mitchell, currently on the committee, also is a farmer and is retired from the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia. Verner is a real estate agent who is retired from the United States Department of Agriculture Farm Service Agency.

The county already has selected Charles as county development officer, according to the county web site. The county received 10 applications for the position.

“The offer of the position of Economic Development Director to Mr. Charles is contingent on the public announcement and affirmative vote of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners,” the site reports.

Charles is the executive director of the Halbersham County Development Authority. He graduated from the University of Georgia in 2005 with a major in broadcast journalism.

Signs and Sewers

The changes to the sign ordinance are mostly technical.

One that is not results from the need to bring the county’s ordinance in line with a state law.

The proposed ordinance lifts all restrictions on the length of time a political campaign sign may be displayed on private property. At present, political signs can be displayed only from the opening day of qualification of candidates to 10 days after the end of the election.

The water and sewer ordinance contains a number of changes, including one giving the county authority to take action if a septic system is failing.

The BOC will be asked to approve a bid of $1,272,381 from Strack Inc., Fairburn, for construction of an 18-inch gravity fed sewer line from St. Mary’s Highland Hills on Jennings Mill Road to Parkway Boulevard near Kohl’s.

Strack submitted the lowest of three bids for the project.

Bishop Community Center

The BOC also will consider an intergovernmental agreement that would transfer the Bishop Center on U.S. 441 (Main Street) from the county to the town of Bishop.

The building is the former Bishop Christian Church and also has been used as the Oconee County Senior Center, now located in Veterans Park.

The county says it “has no further viable use” of the property, while Bishop “has determined that it could use the property for its normal and reasonable municipal purposes,” according to the agreement put online on Friday.

The county agrees to do a variety of repairs to the building before transferring it to Bishop, including pressure washing the exterior, removing vines and duct work, repairing woodwork, repairing and replacing windows, and painting.


Anonymous said...

"All of this information was put on the county’s web site on Friday, but the county released no information on the county’s proposed 2016 fiscal year budget."

Melvin Davis, Jeff Benko and Wed Geddings: Y'all have a duty to provide budget information to the public. Why are y'all hiding it? I thought conservative Republicans are supposed to be up front with the public on spending. How come y'all keep hiding information from us?

To the other four commissioners: Can y'all provide some transparency and accountability. Melvin Davis is not the King of Oconee, but it sure seems like he operates that way, and will continue to do so until y'all show some backbone.

Xardox said...

One wonders if the individual Board members know how little information is actually made available to common citizens unfamiliar with FOIA requests, who's who in the courthouse, and the appearances of lack of accountability.
If they are (and if not, why not?), then the backbone comment is doubly appropriate."

Beanne said...

So Caterpillar comes home to roost in our pocket books. They pay no property taxes and our property taxes go up. So much for industry lowering the tax base! I really don't understand why politicians think it is so great to "attract" these industries - they just cost us $$.