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.
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.
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|
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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.
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.
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 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|
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“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.
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.