The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night is expected to give final approval to a Fiscal Year 2018 budget that is 3.4 percent greater than the budget for the current fiscal year, but the county has not yet provided detailed information on how revenue will grow to meet the budget increase.
Budget documents released by County Finance Director Wes Geddings to date do not provide figures for either.
Since the county is proposing to keep the millage, or property tax, rate the same for next year, the expected growth in property tax valuation will translate into a tax increase.
The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night also is scheduled to make a decision on a number of rezone requests, including one by Chad Forehand to be allowed to operate his landscaping business in land zoned for agriculture.
Forehand pleaded guilty in Oconee County Magistrate Court last year for operating his business without a license and for violation of county zoning, but court records show that he has not responded to a court order that he obtain a license and get the permit to operate his business at his current location.
The Board of Commissioners held a public hearing on May 23 on the proposed Fiscal Year 2018 budget, and County Finance Director Geddings said he is projecting the county will generate enough revenue to over the $49.9 million budget without dipping into the county’s savings.
I was the only citizen to speak at the hearing, and I asked for projections for the coming year of sales tax revenue and of property tax revenue as well as comparable data from the 2017 Fiscal Year budget.
Board of Commissioners Chairman John Daniell promised me I would get the answers.
On May 25, County Clerk Kathy Hayes sent me “a breakdown of revenue” for Fiscal Year 2018.
Later that day, in response to a follow-up request by me, the county Finance Department sent me a similar list for Fiscal Year 2017, which ends on June 30.
In neither case did the form provide the property tax figure, and the total of revenue for 2018 was only $25,508,298.00 for the budget of $49,920,904.
The total revenue for 2017, based on the form the county provided me, was $23,008,037, for the Fiscal Year 2017 budget of $48,268,544.
What Documents Show
The documents Geddings released at the May 23 meeting show a General Fund Budget of $26,943,955, with corresponding revenue.
|Forehand "Barn" And Special Use Sign|
The General Fund budget covers law enforcement, the offices of the Constitutional Officers, and most of the offices of county government.
The Utility Department’s $9.6 million budget is outside the General Fund Budget, as is spending from the county’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, which is to be $11.3 million in Fiscal Year 2018.
The Utility Department Generates its own revenue from water and sewer charges, and the SPLOST budget is covered by revenue from that special, voter approved, 1 percent tax.
While the growth in the overall budget from the current Fiscal Year 2017 to Fiscal Year 2018 is 3.4 percent, the increase in the General Fund Budget is 7.4 percent.
The primary source of revenue to cover the General Fund is the Local Option Sales Tax, which also is a 1 percent tax, and property taxes.
Neither of those is listed on the documents Geddings released on May 23 or was identified in Gedding’s budget presentation on that date.
The property tax is particularly important for people on a fixed income.
As personal property increases in value, as it does in a growing county in a time of economic growth, individuals pay increased taxes, unless the tax rate is reduced. Yet, unless someone sells the property, there is no gain in income.
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 taxes, on average, in the unincorporated parts of the county and 2.48 percent in the incorporated parts.
Until the county releases the projected increase in the county’s tax digest, it isn’t possible to estimate the increase in property taxes for the coming fiscal year that will be used, in part, to balance the proposed budget.
State law requires the county to explain in detail the increases in taxes before the millage rate can be set. This is usually done in late summer.
Special Use Request
The Oconee County Planning Commission voted 6-5 on May 15 to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that it approve a special use request by Chad and Marilyn Forehand to be allowed to continue to operate a noncompliant landscaping business on land zoned for agricultural use.
No one at the meeting stated that the business license for the landscaping operation had expired at the end of 2013 and that the Forehands are in violation of a court order to have gotten a business license and the special use permit by the end of 2016.
The Forehands have been operating PS Landscapes in a metal building on approximately 5 acres they own at the northwest corner of Union Church Road and New High Shoals Road.
County tax records show that the Forehands purchased the property in October of 2015.
They obtained a building permit for a metal frame barn on the agricultural property on Jan. 11, 2016.
On March 21, 2016, the Forehands received a compliance inspection report, signed by county Building Inspector Russ Henson, telling them that “If the barn is to be used as a commercial operation, verify with Oconee County Planning Dept. that the proposed use complies with code.”
On July 29, 2016, county records show that Chad Forehand was cited for not having a business license for operating the landscaping business in Oconee County and for conducting business in a zone where a special use permit is required.
County Code Enforcement files show that PS Landscapes had a business permit for the county that was issued on Aug. 2, 2013, and that expired on Dec. 31, 2013.
As of June 2, according to B.R. White, director of the Oconee County Planning and Code Enforcement Department, Forehand had not received a business license.
Chad Forehand pleaded guilty to the two code violations in Oconee County Magistrate Court on Sept. 9, 2016, and was fined $600, according to Court records.
The court suspended $300 of the fine pending Forehand's purchasing a business license for 2016 and 2017 and obtaining a special use permit for operating the business at the property they own.
Forehand was given until Dec. 31, 2016, to obtain the licenses and the special use permit.
Jessica Hart, Magistrate Court deputy clerk, sent Forehand a letter on Oct. 19, 2016, restating the Court ruling.
Forehand applied for the special use permit on Oct. 20, 2016.
Hart sent Forehand a second letter on Dec. 5, 2016, again restating the Court ruling.
On March 10, 2017, Oconee County Code Enforcement Officer Paul Smith sent Hart an email indicating that Forehand was not in compliance with the Court order.
According to Magistrate Court records on Friday, Smith’s email is the latest record in the Court file.
Other Zoning Action
In other zoning action on Tuesday night, the Board of Commissioners will hear a request by Stonebridge Partners LLC to rezone approximately 40 acres just east of Butler’s Crossing for a single-family residential subdivision.
The Planning Commission has recommended approval of the rezone.
The Planning Commission also recommended approval of an eight-lot single-family subdivision on 9 acres on Hog Mountain Road southeast of U.S. 78 that will be before the BOC on Tuesday.
The meeting is to begin at 7 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.