Saturday, May 18, 2019

Oconee County School Board Blocks County Plans To Build Roundabouts At Malcom Bridge Middle School Entrances

***Board Of Commissioners To Consider Options***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Monday refused to grant the county the rights of way and easements for construction of roundabouts at the two entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School.

The inaction is an attempt by the Board of Education to thwart the efforts by the county Board of Commissioners to build the roundabouts.

Tuesday, May 14, 2019

Three Stores In Oconee County’s Epps Bridge Centre Closed Or Closing Since January, Reflecting National Retail Trends

***Costco Not On Horizon***

LifeWay Christian Store in Epps Bridge Centre currently is holding a going-out-of-business sale and will be the third store in the Oconee County shopping center to close this year.

Gap closed in January, and Kinnucan’s last month.

Thursday, May 09, 2019

Oconee County School Board To Consider Reducing Property Tax As Part Of Fiscal Year 2020 Budget Proposal

***Board Discusses Roundabouts***

Oconee County School administrators are asking the Board of Education to approve a $82 million Fiscal Year 2019-2020 Budget that is based on a reduction of the millage rate to 16.5, the lowest rate for county schools since 2003.

The proposal received a positive response from the Board at its work session on Monday and is scheduled to be adopted as a tentative budget at the Board’s meeting on this coming Monday.

Wednesday, May 08, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Commercial Rezones At Mars Hill Road And U.S. 78 And On Epps Bridge Parkway

***Car Dealer Not Allowed***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night approved a 32-acre commercial rezone request for the northwest the corner of U.S. 78 and Mars Hill Road and a 1.4 acre commercial request on the eastern side of Epps Bridge Parkway at Pine Ridge Court.

The Commission granted in a 3 to 1 vote the rezone request of Butts County developer Bill Jones, who says he will build a JP convenience store and gas station with 20 fueling positions and a Burger King at the intersection of Mars Hill Road and U.S. 78 in the first phase of development.

Monday, May 06, 2019

Oconee County Commission To Consider Two Rezones With Regional Impact

***Shopping And Financial Centers On Agenda***

Two business rezones with regional implications for the county will be before the Oconee County Board of Commissioners when it holds it regular meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) night.

The first and largest of the projects is a request by Butts County developer Bill Jones for a rezone of 32 acres at Mars Hill Road and U.S. 78 for a commercial development. The Board, at Jones’ request, postponed action on that rezone at its meeting on April 2.

Sunday, May 05, 2019

Speakers Brief Oconee County Democrats On Status of Multi-Use Trails Being Developed And Under Discussion

***Firefly Trail And Athens Line***

Stephanie Doerr’s commitment to multi-use trails was obvious from the outset.

“For my bucket list, I’m determined to ride on every trail in every state,” Doerr told the gathering of the Oconee County Democratic Party.

Friday, May 03, 2019

Budget Will Increase By More Than Four Percent, Oconee County Finance Director Tells Commissioners

***Property Tax To Remain Unchanged***

Oconee County will see 4.2 percent growth in its General Fund budget for fiscal year 2019-2020, County Finance Director Wes Geddings told the Board of Commissioners at its budget hearing last week.

That compares with a 4.5 percent increase the year earlier and brings the total general fund budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 to $30.4 million.

Thursday, May 02, 2019

Oconee County Commission Approves Time Line For Roundabout Construction At Malcom Bridge Middle School

***Responds To School Board***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday night to move forward with construction of roundabouts for the entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School and to send a time line for construction to the Board of Education.

The vote was in response to action taken by the Board of Education at its meeting on April 15.

Monday, April 29, 2019

Debate Between Oconee County Young Republicans And Young Democrats Shows Areas Of Agreement And Disagreement

***Immigration And Abortion Hot Issues***

Oconee County Young Democrats and Young Republicans, meeting for a debate on Saturday at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce, agreed on two things.

First, they said it was good that they met and talked about their views on issues and said it was a rare opportunity to do so.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

New State Anti-Abortion Bill Prominent In Meeting Of Oconee County Republicans

***Focus On Recent Legislative Session***

Discussion of the fetal heartbeat bill passed by the Georgia General Assembly in late March permeated the more than 90-minute meeting of the Oconee County Republican Party on Monday.

Scott Hilton, director of implementation for the Georgians First Commission, brought up the bill in his keynote address to 38 people assembled at the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce meeting room in Watkinsville.

Thursday, April 25, 2019

Tours Of Oconee County Sewage Treatment Facilities Show Recent Investments And Future Plans

***Oconee Waters Organized Tours***

It was a cool, windy and rainy day that Vicki Soutar and Erin Carlton had agreed upon for tours of Oconee County’s two sewage treatment facilities.

Soutar, chair of the Oconee Waters unit of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, wanted her group to be able to see the county’s new Calls Creek Wastewater Reclamation Facility on the northeastern edge of Watkinsville.

Tuesday, April 23, 2019

Cold And Rainy Oconee County Earth Day Celebration Attracted Large Number Of Exhibitors and Enthusiastic Crowd

***Organized By Oconee Democrats***

Twenty-four exhibitors participated in the Earth Day celebration organized by the Oconee County Democrats at Harris Shoals Park in Watkinsville on Saturday.

The cold and rainy weather kept the crowd small and forced most of the exhibitors into the main shelter house at the park.

Sunday, April 21, 2019

Oconee County Citizens Told At Town Hall Meeting To Expect A Sales Tax Vote For Road Repairs

***Transportation Dominated Session***

Oconee County voters should not be surprised if at some time in the not-so-distant future they are asked to approved a county Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax to improve county roads.

That was the message delivered to those who attended a Town Hall Meeting held by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night at the community center in Oconee Veterans Park.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

School Board Approves Oconee County Requests For Construction Of Roundabouts On Malcom Bridge Road, But With Conditions

***Also Calls For Communication With Parents***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Monday granted the rights of way and easements to the county for roundabouts at the two entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School, but with conditions.

The Board of Education said the county has to provide “assurance” that the work on the entrances will be completed by the beginning of the school year in August.

Tuesday, April 16, 2019

State Leader Told Oconee County Democrats That Running For Local Offices Is Key To Party’s Future

***City Council Seats Should Be Targets***

Norman Garrett, newly elected Democratic 10th Georgia Congressional District chair, last month encouraged Oconee County Democrats to run for local offices, particularly in the cities, as a stepping stone for strengthening the party in the county.

“What you’ll find is it is a whole lot easier to win these seats than you think it is,” Garrett said, speaking specifically of seats on city councils.

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Season Opening Of Farmers Market, Easter Egg Hunt Part Of Busy Day In Watkinsville

***Earth Day Event Planned***

Eighteen vendors turned out for the launch of the 16th season of the Oconee Farmers Market in front of the Courthouse in Watkinsville on Saturday.

The market opening was only one of a number of activities Saturday in downtown Watkinsville, with the Easter Egg Hunt on Rocket Field drawing a large crowd.

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Oconee School Board Members Raise Concerns About Roundabouts Planned For Malcom Bridge Middle Schools Entrances

***Get Update On Strategic Plan***

Members of the Oconee County Board of Education on Monday went out of their way to show their lack of enthusiasm for the county’s plans to build two roundabouts at the entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School.

“I want to get on the record that this is not our project,” Board member Tim Burgess said.

Sunday, April 07, 2019

Farmers Market Launch, Egg Hunt, Enviro Fest, And Welcome Center Reopening All Scheduled For Saturday In Watkinsville

***Earth Day Event Also Announced***

It should be busy in Watkinsville on Saturday.

The Oconee Farmers Market launches its 16th season at 8 a.m. Saturday in front of the Courthouse on Main Street in Watkinsville.

Thursday, April 04, 2019

House Bill 302 Prohibiting Cities And Counties From Regulating Housing Design Still Has Life

***Resolution Creates Study Group***

Georgia Rep. Vance Smith, a Republican Pine Mountain, north of Columbus, has not given up his efforts to prohibit cities and counties from regulating design standards for one and two-family residential properties.

House Bill 302, which Smith authored, did not make it out of the House Rules Committee during the just-completed session of the General Assembly.

Wednesday, April 03, 2019

Oconee Commission Postpones Action On Rezone For Commercial Development At Mars Hill Road and U.S. 78

***Delay Until May 7***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night granted the request of Butts County developer Bill Jones for a postponement of consideration of a rezone of 32 acres for a commercial development at Mars Hill Road and U.S. 78.

Jones had told the county that he plans to build a JP convenience store and gas station with 20 fueling positions and a Burger King at the intersection where a BP station now stands.

Tuesday, April 02, 2019

Bogart Library Reopening Includes News That State Budget Provides Funding For Future Upgrade Of Watkinsville Library

***Ribbon Cutting And Tour***

The good news of the grand reopening of the Bogart Library on Saturday morning got even better as the ribbon cutting ceremonies progressed.

“I want to thank you all for coming out and welcome you to your newly renovated and expanded Bogart Branch Library,” Valerie Bell, executive director of the Athens Regional Library System, said at the start of the ceremonies a little after 11 a.m.

Monday, April 01, 2019

Oconee Commissioners To Decide On Rezone For Shopping Complex On Mars Hill Road At U.S. 78

***Planning Commission Recommended Denial***

A Butts County businessman is asking the Oconee County Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Tuesday evening to approve his plans for a 32-acre commercial development on Mars Hill Road at U.S. 78 that could include a hotel and a big box store–possibly a Publix grocery.

Plans for the initial phase of the project call for a JP convenience store and gas station with 20 fueling positions and Burger King with a drive through lane to replace the BP station and small shops already at the northwest corner of Mars Hill Road and U.S. 78.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

Oconee County To Consider Converting Sewage Treatment Facility On Rocky Branch Road To A New Park

***Commission To Consider Plant Decommissioning***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners will consider decommissioning its Land Application System sewage treatment facility on Rocky Branch Road and converting it into a park, Commission Chair John Daniell said at the first-ever State of the County presentation on Wednesday.

The nearly 250-acre site also could accommodate a new fire station and a new facility for the Fleet Maintenance, Water Resources and Public Works departments, Daniell told the nearly 70 people assembled for the presentation.

Wednesday, March 27, 2019

Oconee County Moves Forward With Plans To Build Its Own Broadband Infrastructure

***Seeking Partners For Service***

Oconee County took first steps Tuesday night toward building broadband infrastructure to provide high-speed Internet both in the northern developed and southern undeveloped parts of the county.

The Board of Commissioners told County Administrator Justin Kirouac to go forward with seeking qualified partners to build off a proposed fiber network to provide Internet services to homes and businesses.

Monday, March 25, 2019

Large Turnout At Oconee And Morgan County Open House Sessions On U.S. 441 Widening And Bishop Bypass Demonstrate Public Interest

***UGA Sends New Letter Of Opposition***

A total of 269 people attended the two Open House meetings the Georgia Department of Transportation held in the last two weeks on the widening of U.S. 441 and the bypass of Bishop, including 195 at the Open House last week at Oconee Veterans Park.

Attendees at both sessions got a chance to view maps showing the widening plans for the highway from the bypass in Madison to just south of Bishop and from just north of Bishop to the Watkinsville bypass and the truck bypass on the eastern side of Bishop.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Oconee County Legislators Supported House Bill On Voting Machines; Oconee Democrats Anticipated Objections At Last Meeting

***Bill Includes Reforms***

Oconee County’s three legislators in the Georgia General Assembly last week voted in favor of House Bill 316 that selects new voting machines and responds to allegations that voters last year were denied access, absentee ballots were not counted and vote tallies were incomplete.

The vote on the House bill was partisan, and Sen. Bill Cowsert from the 46th District, Rep. Houston Gaines from House District 117, and Rep. Marcus Wiedower from House District 119, all Republicans, sided with the Republican majority.

Monday, March 18, 2019

Extension Of Permit For Apalachee River Intake, Detailed Plans For Bishop Bypass On Meeting Agendas For Tuesday

***University Remains Opposed To Bypass***

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has granted a 15-year extension to the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority for its permit to build an intake facility on the Apalachee River for its Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.

The extension is contingent on approval of related permits issued by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division, and the Regional Reservoir Management Board and the Water and Sewer Authority will meet at 1 p.m tomorrow (Tuesday) in the Historic Courthouse in Monroe to discuss these permits.

Sunday, March 17, 2019

Discussion At National Issues Forum In Oconee County Focused On The Media

***Sponsored By Oconee Progressives***

Criticism of both social and traditional media was a theme that ran throughout the National Issues Forum on “A House Divided” held at the Oconee County Library last Saturday.

Discussion leader Margaret Holt brought up the media even before turning to the first of the three discussion topics, which focused on “dangerous, toxic talk” in the media and elsewhere.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Large Turnout For Open House On Apalachee River Bridge Replacement In Oconee And Walton Counties

***Chance To Comment On Alternatives***

Sixty-nine people turned out last Thursday evening at Oconee Veterans Park to learn about and express an opinion on the proposed replacement bridge for SR 186 over the Apalachee River at High Shoals.

Those who attended the two-hour open house were presented with two alternate plans for the bridge replacement.

Monday, March 11, 2019

Oconee County State Representatives Voted For Anti-Abortion Bill And Against Hate Crimes Bill

***In Late Action On Thursday***

Oconee County’s two representatives in the Georgia General Assembly cast their votes late Thursday night with the House majority in favor of a bill that prohibits most abortions after a doctor can detect a heartbeat in the womb and with the minority against a hate crimes bill.

House Bill 481, officially called the Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act, passed narrowly at 10:45 p.m. on Thursday with 93 representatives, almost all Republicans, voting in favor, and 73 voting against.

Sunday, March 10, 2019

Oconee County Board Of Education Received Update On Roundabouts Planned For Two Entrances To Malcom Bridge Middle School

***Right Of Way Not Yet Granted***

The Oconee County Board of Education reacted cautiously last Monday to school Chief Operating Officer Brook Toole’s update on the four roundabouts planned for Malcolm Bridge Road, including one each at the parent and bus entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School.

Board Chair Tom Odom was concerned that the School System was receiving all of the information it needs from the county regarding the plans and the right of way the Board of Education will have to surrender for the roundabouts.

Friday, March 08, 2019

House Bill 302 And Senate Bill 172 Prohibiting Local Regulation of Housing Design Standards Stuck In Committee

***Neither Made Crossover Deadline***

Neither House Bill 302 nor Senate Bill 172, which would have prohibited local governments from regulating design standards on one and two-family residential properties, made it out of committee on Thursday, the day when a bill usually needs to come to the floor of one chamber for ultimate passage.

The House Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee met three times on House Bill 302, most recently on Wednesday, when it approved a substitute for the original bill in a 9 to 7 vote.

Wednesday, March 06, 2019

Oconee County Commission Approves Agreement For Economic Development Services With Chamber Of Commerce

***Eliminates Oversight Council***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night voted 3 to 0 to approve a modified Memorandum of Understanding contracting with the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce for economic development services formerly provided by county staff.

In introducing a series of changes to the original Memorandum, Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell said he was responding to criticism of the original document.

Tuesday, March 05, 2019

Oconee County Citizens Will Get Chance To Review And Comment On Plans For Apalachee River Bridge Replacement At High Shoals

***Preferred Plan Calls For Lengthy Detour***

Citizens will have a chance on Thursday to comment on two plans for replacement of the bridge over the Apalachee River at High Shoals.

One of those plans would require a 15-month closing of the roadway and a nearly 16-mile detour of traffic.

Sunday, March 03, 2019

Oconee County To Consider Shifting Economic Development To Chamber Of Commerce, Bypassing Open Meetings And Records Laws

***Memorandum Up For Review***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night will consider transferring the county’s economic development activities to the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce.

The action comes in the form of a Memorandum of Understanding that would convey $100,000 annually to the Chamber and give it responsibility for providing economic development services for the county, including attracting and recruiting new businesses and industries.

Saturday, March 02, 2019

Local Journalists Tell University Of North Georgia Audience That Change In Media Industries Is Dramatic

***Most Say Business Model Broken***

The four local journalists gathered at the Oconee County campus of the University of North Georgia agreed that this is a period of dramatic change and adaptation in the media industries they represent.

Blake Aued from flagpole, Michael Prochaska from The Oconee Enterprise, and Lee Shearer from the Athens Banner-Herald said the business model for journalism is broken.

Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Oconee County Commission Votes To Oppose House And Senate Bills Prohibiting Local Regulation Of Housing Standards

***Local Legislators Targeted***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners Tuesday night unanimously passed a resolution opposing House Bill 302 and identical Senate Bill 172 that would prohibit local governments from regulating design standards on one and two-family residential properties.

The resolution is directed at Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower, who represent Oconee County in the Georgia House, and Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents the county in the Senate. All are Republicans, as are the five Oconee County commissioners.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Criticize House Bill 302 At Town Hall Meeting, Discuss Plans For Internet

***Pickleball Also A Topic***

Oconee County commissioners used the Town Hall meeting on Tuesday night to vent their frustration with proposed House Bill 302, which would prohibit them for imposing design standards on one and two-family residential properties as part of zoning.

Commission Chair John Daniell said the bill “will be a serious impact” on the county’s ability to make the recently adopted county Comprehensive Plan “a reality.”

Friday, February 22, 2019

GDOT Announces Public Meetings On U.S. 441 Widening and Bishop Bypass

***Maps Unchanged***

The Georgia Department of Transportation has scheduled two meetings in March to give the public the opportunity to review plans for the widening of U.S. 441 from Madison to Watkinsville.

The plans the public will review are the same as those presented by GDOT last year and include the close-in, two-lane truck bypass on the east side of Bishop.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Georgia House Committee Passes Bill Prohibiting Cities And Counties From Regulating Family Dwellings

***Oconee And Clarke Counties Targeted***

The Agriculture and Consumer Affairs Committee of the Georgia House of Representatives voted 6-5 Wednesday morning to pass House Bill 302 prohibiting local governments from regulating building design of one or two-family dwellings.

The vote followed a discussion of more than an hour that was dominated by the building industry in the state, with speakers strongly favoring the bill and criticizing local regulations of residential housing.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Commercial Subdivision On SR 316 At Mars Hill Road Will Be Back Before Oconee County Commissioners For Variance Request

***Plans Changed After Initial Rezone***

When, in July of 2016, Scott Boswell wanted to move his electrical and communications supply store from Athens to nearly 30 acres at the intersection of Mars Hill Road and SR 316, he needed to have the land rezoned from its agricultural to a highway business classification.

As a part of the rezone application, Boswell submitted a concept plan showing a 9,600 square foot building at the rear of the wooded property, near McNutt Creek.

Monday, February 18, 2019

Gaines And Wiedower Undecided On House Bill 302, Noting “Concerns” In Oconee And Clarke Counties

***Waiting On Committee Process***

Houston Gaines and Marcus Wiedower, who represent Oconee County in the Georgia House of Representatives, say they were asked to join as sponsors of House Bill 302, which would greatly restrict local regulation of one and two-family housing, but they declined.

The two said in a joint statement that “before supporting this bill, we want to fully understand the impact it may have” and that they will follow the bill “as it moves through the committee process.” Both are Republicans.

Friday, February 15, 2019

Georgia House Members Seek To Block Local Governments From Regulating Design Of Residential Housing

***Oconee County’s Foundation Rules A Target***

A bipartisan group of six members of the Georgia House of Representatives has introduced legislation that would prohibit local governments from adopting or enforcing ordinances regulating building design for one and two-family housing.

The proposed law is far reaching and has been called “mammoth pre-emptive legislation” by the Association County Commissioners of Georgia. It also is opposed by the Georgia Municipal Association.

Thursday, February 14, 2019

Oconee County Schools Report Nearly 14 Percent Increase In Sales Tax Revenue

***Compared With Year Earlier***

Oconee County Schools have collected nearly $7.9 million in the first year of the Education Local Option Sales Tax approved by voters in 2017, Saranna Charping, school chief financial officer, told the Board of Education on Monday.

Revenue collected from the sales tax between Jan. 1, 2018, and Dec. 31, 2018–the first year the tax was in place--was up 13.5 percent over revenue in the last year of the preceding tax referendum, according to the report Charping gave the Board.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Oconee County Holds Public Hearing On Senior Center Expansion As Step In Application For Federal Funds

***Larger Turnout Than Expected***

Thirty-one people showed up last week for what was billed as a public hearing on the county’s plans to apply for funding to expand the Oconee County Senior Center.

Monica Sagastizado, a consultant for the county in its bid for the federal funds for the project, said the turnout was more than she expected and that it showed a high level of support for the project in the county.

Thursday, February 07, 2019

Oconee County To Decommission Rocky Branch Road Sewer Line To Protect Barber Creek

***Divert Sewage To Watkinsville***

Oconee County will decommission its 10-inch force main sewer line running along Rocky Branch Road on its way to the Land Application Site near North Oconee High School to avoid future spills into Barber Creek.

Justin Kirouac, county administrator, announced the plans at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday night.

Saturday, February 02, 2019

Oconee County Commission Approves Revised IT And New Social Media Policies

***Requires Administrator Approval Of Accounts***

Oconee County commissioners gave tentative approval on Tuesday to a modified county policy for information technology and established for the first time a policy for social media use by county employees and volunteers acting on behalf of the county.

The social media policy concentrates authority in the hands of County Administrator Justin Kirouac, who must approve creation and use of departmental social media accounts or designate someone to approve them.

Monday, January 28, 2019

Oconee County Begins Beautification Of Mars Hill Road Corridor

***Tree Planting Underway***

Oconee County has begun planting trees along Mars Hill Road in a $375,115 beautification effort for the recently completed roadway.

More than 750 trees–both native and nonnative verities–will be planted along the sides of and in the median strips of the roadway over the next two months.

Sunday, January 13, 2019

Governor-Elect Kemp Gets Frequent Mention In Oconee County Commission Session With Incoming Legislators

***Comments Turns Partisan***

Brian Kemp, the Governor-elect of Georgia, was not invited to and did not attend the pre-legislative session held late last year by the Oconee County Board of Commissioners for the county’s delegation to the Georgia General Assembly.

But Kemp’s presence at the gathering was strong nonetheless.

Saturday, January 05, 2019

Oconee County Reports Major Spill Of Wastewater Into Barber Creek

***Cites “Pipe Fatigue”***

Oconee County, on the first day of the year, had its first major sewer spill for 2019.

A break in a forced sewer line on Malcolm Bridge Road resulted in a major sewer spill of approximately 65,000 gallons of wastewater into Barber Creek, according to a news release issued by the county on Jan. 2.

Friday, January 04, 2019

Board Of Regents Recommending $1.9 Million In State Funding For Watkinsville Library Expansion

***County Ready To Provide $1.1 Million***

Three years after the state provided $1.8 million for the renovation and expansion of the Bogart Library, the Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia is recommending that $1.9 million be included in the Fiscal Year 2020 state budget for expansion of the Watkinsville Library.

The Board of Regents action follows the recommendation of the Georgia Public Library Service, which put the Watkinsville Library project at number five on a list of 13 Georgia Public Library projects for funding by the state.