Oconee County commissioners Tuesday night will confront a complex agenda that includes proposals for renovation of the Courthouse, the Mars Hill Overlay District, changes in the Animal Control Board and its bylaws, and bonds for construction of the entranceway to Epps Bridge Centre Phase II.
The Board of Commissioners also will give first reading to a change in the county’s Wastewater Treatment Policy, award a contract for study of water and wastewater rates, and set possible termination dates for the county’s lease on the two buildings across from the Courthouse.
The agenda also includes discussion of a contract for redesign of the county web site.
And the Commissioners will once again return to a discussion of county employee pay.
The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
Little To Be Revealed
The public will learn very little about renovation and security upgrades at the Courthouse–by design.
The county issued a request for qualifications on Jan. 14 to all Georgia registered architectural and engineering consulting companies “interested in providing professional services for a security improvement plan” for the Courthouse.
“The details of the project, by necessity, are confidential and cannot be described in detail in this RFQ,” the document states.
“In accordance with Georgia State Law and the recent security audit performed for the Oconee County Courthouse, the Oconee County Sheriff has prepared, and the Chief Judge for the Western Judicial Circuit State Superior Court has approved, a Security Improvement Plan” for the Courthouse, the RFQ says.
“In general, said plan requirements include, but are not limited to, improvements to the Courthouse security system and on-site construction of additional inmate transfer and holding facilities,” the RFQ states.
The public isn’t likely to learn much more when County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko discusses the issue on Tuesday night.
Commission discussion of the county’s 2011 lease of the two buildings normally referred to as the Dolvin Property is likely to be somewhat more revealing.
The property is located at 22 North Main Street, across from the Courthouse, and houses the Planning Department, Code Enforcement, the Environmental Health Department and the Coroner’s Office.
The county and property owners 22 North Main Street LLC are seeking to modify the lease agreement so that, beginning on June 30 of this year, the county can terminate the lease by giving 30 days notice and the landlord can terminate by giving the county 60 days notice.
If neither gives notice, the Lease Agreement will terminate December 31, 2016, according to the document before the BOC for discussion.
The BOC has stated that it plans to turn the exiting Courthouse over entirely to judicial functions, but it hasn’t said what will happen when that is done.
On Sept. 1 of last year, the BOC awarded a $29,500 contract for “planning, conceptual design alternatives, cost estimating, alternative site investigation, and related professional planning services for a new administrative services facility.”
The county issued the contract to Gardner Spencer Smith Tench & Jarbeau of Atlanta, an architecture firm.
Work on that project was to be completed in October, but the county has issued no details of the findings.
Request For Proposals
The request for proposals stated that “The BOC has determined that the existing Courthouse will be dedicated to court related services only and that non-court related offices and staff will be relocated from the existing courthouse and other facilities to a new facility to be constructed at an as yet undetermined location.”
The county has determined space requirements, according to the RFP, and the consultant is to “develop alternative conceptual building types and cost estimates for consideration by the BOC.”
The RFP stated the county should be given options for completing the interior finish for the building in two phases.
The first phase will include space for all administrative offices currently located in the Courthouse and the Dolvin Buildings. The second phase shall include county facilities currently located at the Government Annex building on SR 15 south of downtown Watkinsville.
The RFP said that the BOC has given consideration to several potential sites in or near the Watkinsville city limits but has not formed a consensus of opinion favoring any particular site.
The BOC is asking the consultant to investigate potential sites for the Administrative facility.
“Criteria shall include size, access to adequate vehicle ingress-egress for staff, the public and service traffic, proximity to the Courthouse and the Watkinsville Central Business District, utility services including ability to connect to the Courthouse with fiber optic, parking, and other relevant criteria,” the RFP stated.
The consultant was not to be restricted to property listed as for sale.
Animal Control Advisory Board Chair Susan Wells is to be joined by Animal Control Department Director Catlyn Vickers in presentation to the BOC of revisions to the Advisory Board’s bylaws and the resolution of the BOC creating that Advisory Board.
The partnership between the two presents obstacles, as the Advisory Board on Feb. 10, under Wells’ leadership, turned down a series of requests by Vickers to change the Board composition and to clarify the advisory nature of the Board’s work.
As one example, Vicker’s had requested that the resolution be modified to drop from the list of duties of the Advisory Board providing “policy oversight to the Animal Control Programs.”
Only Board member Helen Fosgate supported Vickers in all of her requests for changes, even after County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko, to whom Vicker’s reports, emphasized that the Board of Commissioners, not the Advisory Board, has responsibility for policy.
Benko came forward to support Vickers during the discussion, and his comments are in the short clip below.
OCO: Benko On Policy from Lee Becker on Vimeo
The full video of the Feb. 10, 2016, meeting of the Animal Control Advisory Board is HERE.
The Commission on Tuesday either will rescue the proposed Mars Hill Road Overlay District proposal or bring it to an end, at least in its current form.
On Monday of last week, the Planning Commission voted 6-3 against recommending that the plan developed by consultant Bill Ross be incorporated into the county’s Unified Development Code. The video of that meeting is embedded at the bottom of this post.
Planning Commission actions are only advisory, but the negative vote will give the commissioners more support for their already stated reservations about the project.
Commission Chair Melvin Davis was an early supporter of Ross and the overlay plan, but he and the other commissioners largely abandoned Ross during a hailstorm of criticism leveled at him by Doug Dickens in early January.
Dickens is a prominent land owner, cotton farmer, developer and Board Member at Oconee State Bank. In 2002, Davis engineered the purchase of the land for what is now Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road from Dickens at above-assessed value.
After several earlier efforts were delayed to allow for revisions, the Commissioners will take up a proposal by Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie to change wastewater policy in the county.
The new policy defines wastewater treatment capacity at the county’s two treatment facilities and any future facility as 90 percent of permitted capacity, holding 10 percent back from allocation for emergency needs.
Twenty percent of the allocated capacity will be reserved for industrial and manufacturing use, with no more than 40 percent allocated for residential use. The remainder is for commercial use.
Future allocation of residential use will be based on project readiness, indexed by a priority list.
First priority will go to developments that have been zoned and granted development approval.
Water And Sewer Rates
Haynie Tuesday night also will make a recommendation to the BOC for awarding of a contract for a water and sewer rate study.
The county issued a request for qualifications and proposal for the study on Nov. 18 of last year.
The goal of the study, according to the RFQP, is to assess current water and sewer rates and fee structure and develop recommendations on those rates and rate structure.
The bidder also is being asked to develop a special class rate structure for large category users, assess impact (capacity fees) and connection fees, and develop a comprehensive financial model for the Utility Department.
Water rates in the county have increased in each of the last eighth years, and sewer rates have increased for seven years in a row.
Haynie has suggested he is likely to ask for rate increases again this year.
The Planning Commission on Monday gave unanimous approval to the request by Epps Bridge Centre Developer Frank Bishop for the rezone of 54 acres on the Oconee Connector for an expansion of the shopping center.
That rezone comes before the Board of Commissioners for final action on March 1.
On Tuesday, however, the Board of Commissioners will be asked to approve a resolution for the sale of $4.285 million in bonds to finance construction of Parkway Boulevard Extension and refinance some county debt for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir now filling in southeast Walton County.
The new road will run from opposite one of the existing entrances of Epps Bridge Centre to the stub of Parkway Boulevard near Kohl’s department store.
IDA Issue Bonds
The Oconee County Industrial Development Authority agreed at its Feb. 8 meeting to issue the bonds for the county.
The Board of Commissioners is agreeing to pay to the IDA “amounts sufficient to pay the principal of and interest on the Bond.”
The BOC is agreeing to increase property taxes “if necessary” to pay for the bonds.
The BOC also will be asked on Tuesday night to sign an intergovernmental agreement with the IDA setting out the terms of the bond sales and payment.
The full video of the Feb. 8, 2016, meeting of the Oconee County Industrial Development Authority at which the Authority approved the bond sales is HERE.
Odds And Ends
Paula Nedza, Information Technology director, is to make a recommendation to the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday on the awarding of a contract for redesign of the county’s web site.
The county issued a request for proposals on Jan. 21 for an update to its website “to enhance the user experience, simplify content management, and provide better information and customer service to its community, while meeting high standards for design quality and visual appeal.”
The Tuesday BOC agenda also lists “Discuss Employee Pay Plan” as an item, but it does not indicate who is going to lead the discussion or its nature.
This an issue the county has been struggling with since the BOC approved its budget for the current fiscal year, which began on July 1. The budget contained 3 percent increases in staff salary, and half of that was allocated as cost of living adjustment.
The full video of the Monday (Feb. 15) Planning Commission meeting is below.
The meeting has three distinct parts, with preliminary matters and the rezone approval for Epps Bridge Centre Phase II taking up the first 19 minutes.
The second segment covers the Mars Hill Overlay District proposal. That discussion runs from 19 minutes until 58 minutes.
The discussion of other changes to the Unified Development Code runs from 58 minutes until the meeting’s end at just short of 90 minutes.
Those other UDC changes will be discussed on Tuesday as well, including a change to allow property owners to operate a recreational vehicle storage facility on agricultural proper;ty.
Sarah Bell shot the video of the meeting, which took place in the Commission Chamber of the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
OCO: PC 2 15 16 Full from Lee Becker on Vimeo
"Dickens is a prominent land owner, cotton farmer, developer and Board Member at Oconee State Bank. In 2002, Davis engineered the purchase of the land for what is now Veterans Park on Hog Mountain Road from Dickens at above-assessed value."
Three very important words above: "above-assessed value".
Oconee desperately needs a new commission chair not beholden to "Old Oconee" and out of town developers like Frank Bishop, or out of county realtor/State Transportation Board member Jamie Boswell.
Time for new, open-minded leadership, looking to the future leadership. No more behind closed doors dealings!!
How can storage of RV's and mini-warehouses be considered "agricultural"? At this rate, we won't have any truly agricultural land left in Oconee County (perhaps by design, agriculture does not generate sales tax revenue). Are we changing agricultural zoning to accommodate Mr. Wilkes and his plan for storage and mini-warehouses on his land? What a travesty.
The Board of Commissioners asked the county planning staff to change the UDC after the BOC turned down the request by Commissioner William "Bubber" Wilkes to rezone his land for recreational vehicle storage and a mini-warehouse. The change will allow the recreational vehicle storage on agricultural land.
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