Oconee County Commissioners, in a called meeting tomorrow night, will be asked to give final approval to a Fiscal Year 2017 budget that is nearly 22 percent larger than for the current fiscal year and that includes an average property tax increase of approximately 5 percent.
The county’s millage rate will remain unchanged from this year, but the balanced budget is predicated on an expected 5 percent increase in the county’s tax digest. That increase translates into increased individual property taxes.
The budget includes $11.9 million in spending of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax Revenue, up from $5.4 million a year ago, and a Utility Department Budget of $9.1 million, up from $8.5 million in the current budget.
The Commission will hold a hearing on the budget before the vote, and citizens opposed to the county’s plans for its Calls Creek sewer plant are likely to raise questions.
In addition, county Parks and Recreation Department Director John Gentry has taken the unusual step of asking members of the Citizens Advisory Committee on Recreational Affairs to come to the meeting and object to a budget that Gentry claims will require him to eliminate programs.
The Commission will be taking up an agenda tomorrow night that was to be addressed at its regular meeting on June 7.
Commission Chairman Melvin Davis postponed discussion of much of that agenda because Commissioner Mark Saxon could not attend because of a family illness. With Commission Post II vacant, that left only two voting commissioners and Davis to decide on agenda items.
Included on the agenda tomorrow night will be three rezone hearings, including one for Elaine Duckett Crane of Mineral Bluff in north Georgia, who is seeking a zoning change for three parcels totaling 30 acres on the south side of SR 316 just west of Virgil Langford Road.
According to the narrative, lots within the development will be for sale to individual new car dealerships or others interested in related businesses.
Planning Commission Vote
The Planning Commission voted 5 to 3 at the meeting on May 16 to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that it deny the request to rezone the land from agricultural use to business use.
The Planning Commission did recommend approval of the two other rezone requests on the agenda tomorrow night.
Extreme Fireworks of Alpharetta is asking the BOC to allow operation of a year-round retail fireworks store in Manders Crossing shopping center at Cliff Dawson Road and Mars Hill Road.
Vintage Oak Farm at 6305 Hog Mountain Road is seeking to bring an existing operation of a reception hall on agricultural land into compliance with county ordinances by rezoning the land for commercial use.
The Commission meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
At the first budget hearing on May 31, county Finance Director Wes Geddings emphasized in the video clip below that the county was keeping the same millage rate of 6.68 in Fiscal Year 2017 as in Fiscal Year 2008. The rate actually had declined in the two years before that.
If property tax assessments go up, the Commission has to decrease the rate to hold taxes steady.
The county is projecting that assessments, called the tax digest, will increase by approximately 5 percent this year.
That is an average across all property in the county, and individuals may experience higher or lower tax increases depending on their individual assessments.
Geddings is proposing that the county take $647,000 from savings to balance the budget.
Winners and Losers
Department heads and elected officials had submitted their budget requests starting just after the first of the year, and most asked for more than they got.
In the end, most also got more than they received last year.
Judicial costs, associated with the appointment of a new Superior Court Judge to be housed in Oconee County, increased $106,433. That does not include the salary of the judge, which is covered by the state.
The Planning Department and Code Enforcement Department received an increase of $125,333, but that reflects the incorporation of the Strategic and Long Range Planning Department, closed when Wayne Provost retired.
The Park and Recreation Department received an increase in funding of $67,188, but Gentry had asked for an increase of $643,270.
Park and Recreation Director Gentry told the Recreational Affairs Committee in a series of email messages last week that the lack of funds in the budget for new full-time positions means “I will have to begin a review of programs to eliminate because we are exceeding our capacity to manage facilities and programs.”
Gentry also criticized the lack of funding for a master plan and said the inclusion of $50,000 for field improvements to the multi-use fields was not consistent with his request and “does not match with any of the true costs.”
Gentry also said that the budget is not responsive to recommendations of the Committee for funding for historic and scenic sites.
“Chairman (Davis) is pushing BOC for other historic and scenic site funds not addressed in any other public forums to date,” Gentry wrote.
Gentry urged Committee members to attend the meeting last week and voice their concerns.
Utility Department and SPLOST
The Utility Department is budgeted based on what is called an “Enterprise Fund,” meaning it is expected to generate its own income.
Utility Department Director Wayne Haynie had submitted a budget for $9,130,900, up $618,700 from his current budget, or an increase of 7.3 percent.
The budget up for approval tomorrow night gives Haynie the $9.1 million he requested.
The budget documents released to the public do not identify the nearly $12 million in SPLOST spending in Fiscal Year 2017, but Geddings read a list of projects in his presentation on May 31.
Included was $1.7 million for the Utility Department for unspecified projects.
The Commission meeting tomorrow night will include four items dealing with water and sewer projects.
The first is a task order with Precision Planning for design of McNutt Creek Sewer Connector, Phase II, in an amount not to exceed $27,850.
The second is a task order with Barge, Waggoner, Sumner & Cannon Inc., Peachtree Corners, for upgrades to the Oconee Veterans Park pump station and force main, in an amount not to exceed $93,006.
The third is a task order with Precision Planning Inc. for design of a new water tower in an amount not to exceed $97,850.
The fourth is a bid award for a shared project with the City of Bogart for sewer system improvements for a total amount not to exceed $875,374. Oconee County’s share is not to exceed $475,419.
All of the projects are to be paid for with Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax funds.
The video of the Planning Commission meeting on May 16 is HERE.
The video of the meeting of the Board of Commissioners on June 7 is HERE.
The video of the BOC meeting of May 31, including the public hearing on the budget, is HERE.
The clip above was taken from that larger May 31 video.