Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Oconee County Parks And Recreation Department Director Presses Board Of Commissioners For More Resources

Options Presented

Oconee County is at a decision point, Parks and Recreation Director John Gentry told the Board of Commissioners last (Tuesday) night.

The commissioners must decide if the Parks and Recreation Department should continue both to manage facilities and to manage youth and adult programs, or should the department play a lesser role, perhaps only managing facilities.

If the county is to continue managing programs, Gentry said, the Commission has to provide additional full-time programming staff, as the existing staff already is overextended.

Gentry’s request this spring for three full-time positions--two additional program coordinators and a park services field supervisor--was turned down by the Board of Commissioners when it approved the current fiscal year budget.

Commissioner Mark Saxon and Commission Chairman Melvin Davis thanked Gentry for his presentation last night, but none of the commissioners gave any indication of a willingness to spend more money on park personnel.

Tax Increase

Earlier in the meeting the Commission took final action on the millage rate for the county, which is a cornerstone of the Fiscal Year 2016-2017 Budget. That budget started on July 1.

From Gentry's PowerPoint
(Click To Enlarge)

The millage rate itself stayed the same as last year, but the assessed value of property in the county increased.

The difference between the millage rate that would have produced the same amount of money as last year and the millage rate approved represented an increase of 2.56 percent in the unincorporated parts of the county and 2.48 in the incorporated parts.

The county also approved the millage rate for the Oconee County School System.

That millage rate also stayed the same, resulting in an increase in property taxes of 2.51 percent.


The Commission voted to condemn two right-of-way easements needed for the second phase of the Mars Hill Road/Experiment Station Road widening project.

Settlement was reached on all other properties along the stretch of Experiment Station Road to the U.S. 441 Bypass of Watkinsville, County Attorney Daniel Haygood told the Commission.

Haygood referred to the first parcel as the Rite Aid property and to the second as the Butler’s Crossing Shopping Center property.

The county will pay $507,700 for the Rite Aid easements and $159,200 for the Butler’s Crossing Shopping Center easements.

Haygood reminder the commissioners that the Georgia Department of Transportation will reimburse the county for those expenses.

Office Move

County Administrative Officer Jeff Benko reported that the move of the Planning Department, Code Enforcement Department, Environmental Health Department, Coroner’s Office and an office to the Government Annex will be completed by the end of the day today (Wednesday).

The group of departments and offices has been housed in the two buildings across Main Street from the Courthouse. The county been unwilling to purchase or agree to a long-term lease on the two buildings, referred to as the Dolvin buildings.

The moved offices are going to be spread around space in the Annex, on SR 15 on the south side of Watkinsville, and it is a very tight fit, Benko said.

The Board of Commissioners has been unable to come to any agreement on where to build or how to finance an administrative services building.

Benko estimated it will be at least five or six years before any new space is available.

Despite that report, BOC Chairman Davis pushed the commissioners to approve an agreement with Athens Technical College to allow it to hold Adult Education GED classes at the Annex.

The other commissioners refused to go along with that, so Davis put the item on the agenda for discussion again next week.

Water Resources

During the citizen comment section at the front of the meeting, I announced that representatives of Oconee Waters, Positively Oconee, Friends of Calls Creek and Friends of Barber Creek had met on Aug. 25 at the Oconee County Library.

As a result of that meeting, we agreed to form a new group called Citizen Committee for Water Resources to increase citizen involvement in and knowledge of a variety of issues in the county centering on use and preservation of water resources.

I said that we were asking only two things of the commissioners.

“We would like you to remain open to our efforts and join us to the extent you can,” I said, and we would like to have access to public meeting space controlled by the county to the extent that space is available.

None of the commissioners responded to the comments.

Commissioners Davis, Saxon and William “Bubber” Wilkes did look at me while I was talking, but Commissioner Jim Luke never looked up from a sheet of paper he was reading while I spoke.

Gentry’s Plea

Gentry told the Commission that the Parks and Recreation Department has operated with only four full-time programming staff since 2004.

Oconee Veterans Park opened in 2008, he said, and participation in programs in the county’s facilities has increased dramatically.

Bark Park Plans
(Click To Enlarge)

“Our parks are stressed and stretched,” he said. Without additional staff, the department cannot continue operating as it is now, he said.

Gentry said one option would be for the Parks and Recreation Department to get out of the programming area and focus only on facility management.

Another alternative is for the Parks and Recreation Department to manage facilities and facilitate rather than manage programs.

A final option would be for the Department to manage facilities, manage some programs, and facilitate some programs.

Bark Park

Gentry told the BOC that he expects the improvements underway to the dog park at the rear of Oconee Veterans Park to be completed in November.

Included are new fencing separating dogs by size, the planting of trees, construction of a shaded area, and a gravel parking area.

The project is being funded by a $25,000 Pet Safe Grant and $7,000 in donations.

The park will retain its current external dimensions and use much of the existing fencing, Gentry said, holding down costs.


The video of the entire meeting is below.

The citizen comment section starts at 1 minute and 20 seconds into the video.

Gentry began his presentation just after 34 minutes and 30 seconds into the video.

OCO: BOC 8 30 16 Complete from Lee Becker on Vimeo.


Anonymous said...

If the Parks and Recreation Dept. can't handle the increase numbers then maybe some people will have to be turned away until the commercial taxes brings in enough revenue to pay for the increased utilization of services by the rising residential population. Or put a halt to housing development so that the population doesn't overwhelm the existing county facilities. Or we can put our heads in the sand and the problem will go away!

Tammy said...

It is pretty poor that the Commission won't provide additional funding for the OCPRD for additional staff. The current staff do an EXCELLENT job running the youth programs, which I have experience with, and I think it will be a disservice to the TAX PAYERS of Oconee county to lose the high quality programs we currently receive due to a lack of staff funding. I am personally appalled to hear of this lack of support from the Commission in light of the recent misuse use of funding for design/consulting work regarding the Mars Hill widening project that was apparently intended to benefit only a few select Oconee residents. And that is only one example! Thanks Lee for bringing this to our attention.

Anonymous said...

"Commissioners Davis, Saxon and William “Bubber” Wilkes did look at me while I was talking, but Commissioner Jim Luke never looked up from a sheet of paper he was reading while I spoke."

Stay classy Jim Luke. If you cannot have the common decency to look a citizen making comments in the eye, then resign. You've seem burned out for awhile now, and clearly look like you don't want to be at commission meetings. Whether you realize it or not, you embarrassed yourself and the office of commissioner.

Anonymous said...

John Gentry should get a FOM (Friend of Melvin) to ask for his additional funding and it would probably be pushed right through. The Rec Department facilities seem to be used by a lot of people, so it is understandable that he needs more staff. Do people who are involved in the programs have to pay some kind of participation fee?

mike streetman said...

I would hate for my taxes to increase to expand the Parks budget but if you give kids and adults something to do in their spare time or to help with their day to day frustrations it will pay off in the long run by possibly keeping them out of mischief and not having to deal with the Sheriffs office.
The quality of our Rec Dept. is one of the reasons people want to come to Oconee Co.
The $4 million for the road for Bishop's commercial expansion would go a long way in helping John's budget. It doesn't seem that the commercial development is bringing enough revenue to justify the concessions given.
I hope the new BOC will look more favorably on recreation in the future budget hearings.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 12:22 - If I remember right from when the Commission approved the Epps Bridge Road extension, the new commercial site would collect about a million dollars per year in commercial/property taxes. If that's the case, the $4 million investment in the road would be paid off in a few years, and all future tax revenue would be "profit" ... So I disagree with you: commercial development more than pays for itself, and also other services that benefit from sales tax collections.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous 12:22 -- Seems like some of that "profit" should have been coming in regularly through the years but my property taxes have not gone down. Have yours?

mike streetman said...

I apologize if I was wrong about the amount of tax revenue that would be brought in from the Bishop expansion. It will be interesting to see if the records over the next few years bear it out.
I know that we spend more money on our recreation budget per capita than other surrounding counties, but I think that is one of the reasons people want to come to Oconee.
I have not been a part of the Rec. Advisory Board in the last couple of years, so I don't know how the staff positions are designated, but maybe John and the Advisory board can come up with a way to reallocate staff to continue the needed programs.
Good luck.

Zippity said...

Yes, it sure does seem like we should be floating in "dough" if all this commercial development was really paying for itself. Yet we don't have enough sewage capacity and our Parks Department is underfunded and still our taxes go up. Development like this does not pay for itself as several economic studies have shown.

Lee Becker said...

I just remembered that I had not responded to a question about fees. Yes, the county has an elaborate fee structure for its programs. These are listed on the department web site.

Go here:

Then pull down the tabs across the top listing programs.


Anonymous said...

To ANOM 3:14PM I don't think any of the commercial developments have met expectations. Certainly Bishops other phase has not. And how about Caterpillar? My taxes have not gone down over the years with the increased commercial development, How about yours.
The only thing that I see is more congestion and traffic and time spent to get from point A to point B. I am not sure the "convenience" is worth the inconvenience.
If the Recreation Department has seen such an increase in usership should there not be an surplus of funds? I thought that program fees paid for the programs.
Does anyone know the brake down of the Recreation budget?
I believe that the maintenance of the Parks is farmed out to other companies and not done by the staff.
Maybe the incoming BOC Chair can crunch the numbers and explain how our tax dollars are spent and if things can be streamlined.

Xardox said...

I really hope the incoming, new Chairman is ready.
Many questions, property taxes, extreme focus on the 316 corridor,
and what should be gobs of money for all kinds of goodies.
There is an expectation for the continued high standard of living,
and handling the inevitable influx plus
actually having some transparency for the details of the money flow.
Of course the Parks Dept should be funded properly.
Other departments seem to get whatever they want.

Anonymous said...

Commercial property always pays off, and I'll use math to prove it.

Let's say the average house in Oconee County is valued at $400k. Oconee County property taxes are about 1%, so that house brings in $4k. Under County/school millage split, the school system gets $3k and the County gets $1k.

It costs about $8k per year to educate a child. The state pitches in about $4k a year, leaving about $4k for the community to cover. But remember, each house is only kicking in $3k, so we are $1k in the hole per kid... And that's assuming there is only one school-aged kid in the house. Each additional kid adds another $4k tax deficit on the school system. In this sense, houses are consume tax resources.

Now a look at commercial... Assume the property of a fast food restaurant has a taxable value of $1 million. That value brings $10k in taxes ($2.5k for County and $7.5k for schools). On top of that, that fast food restaurant has about $2 million is sales, so LOST, SPLOST, ELOST collect $20k per year each ($60k total.) That one fast food business can support approximately 7 kids in the school system. Since a business has no kids to send to the school system, all of that money is considered a credit/surplus. And here is a fringe benefit: folks from other counties pay sales tax to Oconee County every time they shop here, so they are supporting our community.

Bottom line: commercial development supports our county government and school system. In order to to support the govenrment/school system, residential tax rates would be at least 2 to 3 times what they are now. When someone says, "Commercial development isn't worth it," they don't know the facts about property and sales tax. Commercial development always pays for itself; industrial property tax collection is even more lucrative, plus they create jobs that support those mortgages and commercial sales.

Anonymous said...

By looking at the county budget for 2017(data on the county website)the parks and rec budget is $2,670,728 and they project $1,181,750 in revenue. That is 44% cost recovery which means the per capita cost is $41.40 whereas the national average per capita cost for parks and rec (NRPA website) is $76.44.

Anonymous said...

A 44 percent cost recovery is way above the average in Georgia
Most deparments recover 30-33%.
Not sure which figure you're looking at from NRPA, but trust me, 44% recover is excellent

Also, commercial development is important, but how it's done directly affects a community's quality of life. It can be down wily nily, and a county be a mishmash of fast food and dollar stores, like Gwinnett, or it can be done with thought and visionary planning.

Right now, Melvin and his rubber stamp Bubber approve everything, at least when the request comes from frank Bishop, Jamie Boswell or a FOM, Friend of Melvin, such as Mr. Dickens, and other "Old Oconee" families.

Anonymous said...

Maybe OCPRD should increase the gym memberships from $40 per quarter to $20 per month. That would give them extra funds to play with. Pun intended.

Anonymous said...

Is there a process to verify that all program participants are Oconee County residents? If not, why not?

rightway1974 said...

Take a look at the tags on the cars in the parking lots at the parks. people who do not live in here are using them in great numbers.

Lee Becker said...

John Gentry told me in an email message yesterday that county has only a "few" program participants from outside the county. Gentry said the county charges a $10 out of county fee in addition to the program fee.


Anonymous said...

$10.00 is an insignificant amount in relation to the actual cost. We as taxpayers are paying much more even if we do not use the parks. The out of county fee should cover all costs related to that individual being allowed to participate.