Monday, December 30, 2019

Georgia Department Of Transportation Has Plans To Make 10 Intersection Improvements To SR 316 In Oconee County

***Oconee Connecter Interchange Top Priority***

The Georgia Department of Transportation is scheduled to make 10 intersection improvements on SR 316 in Oconee County over the next eight years, with right of way acquisition for the first of these–at the Oconee Connector–planned for 2020.

Actual construction of the interchange at the Oconee Connector could begin as early as 2022, according to state planning documents.

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Clarkston Mayor Told Oconee County Democrats That Investment In Solar Energy Can Appeal To Rural Voters

***Focused Also On Health Care***

Clarkston Mayor Ted Terry, a candidate for the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, spent much of his time during last month’s meeting with Oconee County Democrats outlining his views on solar energy and healthcare.

“Georgia’s number one natural resource is the sun,” Terry told the group meeting at the Bogart Library.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Detailed Analysis Of State Milestones Data Documents Overall Improvements Of Oconee County Schools On Standardized Test Scores

***Also Shows Some Area Of Relative Weakness***

Oconee County School administrators have gone out of their way to make sure the Board of Education, parents and the general public know how highly ranked Oconee County Schools are based on the state’s Milestones assessments, released at the end of the summer.

Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications for Oconee County Schools, sent out a news release on July 29 stating that “Oconee County Schools’ Milestones, End of Grade, and End of Course assessment results have placed OCS as the #1 school system in the state of Georgia.”

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Watkinsville Council And Oconee County In Discussion Over Residential Sewer Capacity Allocations

***Based On 1991 Agreement***

Watkinsville City Council last month approved a sewer policy that allocates future residential sewer capacity for intensive residential development of the city center rather than for development of vacant land not at the city core.

At present, the city has no residential sewer capacity available for allocation and is dependent on Oconee County for its sewer services.

Thursday, December 05, 2019

Oconee Commissioners Approve Request By Life Church Of Athens To Withdrawal Application For Special Use Permit

***Approve Permit For Athens College of Ministry***

Life Church of Athens asked the Oconee County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday night to withdraw its request for a special use permit to build a church at Summit Oaks Drive and Summit Grove Drive north of Watkinsville.

The Board was scheduled to hold a public hearing on the church’s request but instead voted unanimously to approve the request by Life Church to withdraw the application “without prejudice and without restrictions on future filings.”

Friday, November 29, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Economic Development Strategy For Implementation By Chamber Of Commerce

***Also Take Stance On Local Control***

Oconee County commissioners on Tuesday night gave informal approval to an economic development strategy outlined to them by Courtney Bernardi, president of the Oconee Chamber of Commerce, who now heads up economic development efforts for the county.

The strategy, according to Bernardi’s report to the Commission, includes supporting, nurturing, and investing in existing businesses, targeting professional and technology jobs, and leveraging the proximity to and relationships with the University of Georgia.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Oconee County Transportation Task Force Asked For Comment On Long Range Transportation Plan

***Offers Little Feedback***

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell and Public Works Director Jody Woodall got little input last week from the Task Force the Board of Commissioners appointed to help the county prioritize projects identified in the recently completed transportation study.

Woodall went through the list of 18 projects listed as Corridor Capacity Improvements in the county’s Long Range Transportation Plan and asked Task Force members for their comments on the proposals.

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Oconee County Board Of Education Reassured About ELOST Collections And Bond Payments

***Revenues Suggest Surplus Likely***

Oconee County Schools and the Board of Education have shifted their attention from spending money from the current Education Local Option Sales Tax to making sure that the revenue the tax produces in its remaining months will be sufficient to pay back the bonds sold against that revenue.

At the regular meeting of the Board of Education on Monday, Saranna Charping, chief financial officer for Oconee County Schools, told the Board that spending on the budgeted projects for the current Education Local Option Sales Tax, or ELOST V, is nearly complete.

Thursday, November 14, 2019

Oconee County Industrial Development Authority Gets Update On County's New Economic Development Plans

***Lesser Role For Authority***

Oconee County plans to target information technology, healthcare and professional services as sectors for its future economic development.

By contracting with the Oconee County Chamber of Commerce for economic development, the county will save about $40,000 from last year when it tried to promote economic development on its own.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Oconee County Planning Commission Recommends Approval Of Life Church Of Athens Plans To Move To Oconee County

***Concerned Citizens Packed Public Hearing***

The Oconee County Planning Commission Monday night voted 9 to 1 to recommend to the Board of Commissioners that it grant a special use permit to allow Life Church of Athens to build a community-scale church on just under nine acres at the corner of Summit Oaks Drive and Summit Grove Drive north of Watkinsville.

The Planning Commission took the action after a public hearing before an overflow crowd in the Board of Commissioners Chamber at the Courthouse during which neighbors complained about traffic problems and disruption of the neighborhood that the church would create.

Sunday, November 10, 2019

Oconee County Expects To Spend $1 Million In Old SPLOST Money On Courthouse Expansion Now Underway

***Money For Historic And Scenic Facilities Not Committed***

Oconee County soon will have spent the remaining monies from the 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax as it completes work on the $2.5 million expansion of the Courthouse, Wes Geddings, county finance director, told the Board of Commissioners on Tuesday.

Geddings, in his financial update for the first quarter of Fiscal Year 2020, said a little more than $1 million in unspent funds remains in 2004 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) account at present.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

Corps Of Engineers Extends Deadline For Comment On Permit Request For Publix Shopping Center

***Roadway Design Also Clarified***

The U. S. Army Corps of Engineers has extended its deadline for public comment on the request by Publix Supermarkets Inc. to dredge and fill a tributary of Barber Creek so it can build a shopping center on the Oconee Connector between SR 316 and Mars Hill Road.

The Corps made its decision to extend the deadline from today (Thursday) until Nov. 21 after Vicki Soutar, chair of Oconeewaters, contacted Project Manager Stacy Marshall and indicated that Marshall had been inaccessible during a move of the Corps’ Office.

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Oconee County School Board Receives Four-Year Facility Plan That Includes A New Middle School

***Board Action Scheduled For Monday***

The Oconee County Board of Education on Monday is expected to take another step toward construction of a third middle school for the county.

Jake Grant, director of Facilities for Oconee County Schools, presented to the Board at its work session this past Monday a facilities plan for July 1, 2020, through, June 30, 2024, that includes as its top and most expensive item $6.9 million as partial funding for a new middle school.

Tuesday, November 05, 2019

Smith Defeats Incumbent Shearon By Two Votes In Watkinsville Mayoral Race

***Massey Wins Reelection To Council***

Former state Representative Bob Smith defeated incumbent Watkinsville Mayor Dave Shearon by two votes on Tuesday in an election that brought out 39.6 percent of the active registered voters in the city.

Incumbent Council Member Connie Massey defeated Jonathan Kirkpatrick, with Massey receiving 52.8 percent of the vote.

Monday, November 04, 2019

Oconee County To Reapply For Funding Of Expansion Of Senior Center

***Agreement On Tuesday Agenda***

After failing in its first attempt, Oconee County is going to try again to get a grant from the Georgia Department of Community Affairs for expansion of the Senior Center, located in Oconee Veterans Park.

Commissioners gave tentative approval at their agenda setting meeting last week to an agreement with the Northeast Georgia Regional Commission for assistance in making the grant application and, if the county is successful, in administering the grant.

Sunday, November 03, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Soon To Consider Doubling Capacity Of Calls Creek Wastewater Plant, Chair Told County Republicans

***Expansion Will Not Provide Residential Sewer***

Oconee County commissioners are likely to consider before the end of the year doubling the treatment capacity of the Calls Creek Wastewater Treatment Facility on the northeast of Watkinsville.

Even with that expansion, the county will not be able to offer residential sewer because of over commitment of residential sewer in the past.

Friday, November 01, 2019

Publix Planning Large Shopping Center On Oconee Connector Between SR 316 And Mars Hill Road

***Seeking Corps Of Engineers Permit***

Publix Supermarkets Inc. is seeking a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to dredge and fill a tributary of Barber Creek so it can build a shopping center on roughly 45 acres at the intersection of Mars Hill Road and the Oconee Connector.

The shopping center, across from the QuikTrip convenience store and gas station, is to include a Publix Super Market and additional retailers, hotels, restaurants and service providers, according to the permit application.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Secretary Of State Office Identifies 1,177 Inactive Oconee County Voters For Challenge

***Notices To Go Out Next Week***

The Georgia Secretary of State Office will send notices to the addresses of 1,177 inactive voters from Oconee County next week as part of the state-wide effort to clean and update the voter files.

Across the state, according to a news release from the Secretary of State Office issued Wednesday, the notice will go to 313,243 inactive voters.

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Tax Collections From The Education Sales Tax Down Again In August Compared With Year Ago, Oconee County School Board Told

***Five Of Last Six Months Below Year Earlier***

Tax collections for the Oconee County Education Local Option Sales Tax were down more than 2 percent in August compared with August of last year, marking the fifth time in the last six months that the education sales tax revenue had been lower than a year earlier.

Over the first 20 months of the current tax, called ELOST V, the average monthly change over a year earlier remains positive at 7.8 percent, but the trend line since October of a year ago has been negative.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Former Labor Commissioner Thurmond Told Oconee County Democrats That Oconee County Provides Opportunities For The Party

***Cites High Level Of Education***

Oconee County is an excellent opportunity for Democrats, Michael Thurmond told a gathering of party members at the Bogart Library earlier this month, because of the demographics of the county.

The county has one of the highest educational levels in the state and in the southeast, Thurmond said, and the college educated, and particularly college-educated women, are being targeted by Democrats nationally.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Oconee County Reported Minor Sewer Spill Near Subdivision South Of Oconee County High School

***Also Announced Required Drought Response***

Oconee County reported its second sewer spill of the year to the Georgia Environmental Protection Division last week after a sewer force main break in a wooded area behind Cooperville subdivision off Union Church Road south of Oconee County High School.

According to a news release from the county, the Oconee County Water Resources Department was notified of a sewer odor in Copperville subdivision at about 11 a.m. on Oct. 14, 2019.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Georgia Department Of Transportation Drops Plans For Truck Bypass Of Bishop

***U.S. 441 South Of Bishop To Be Widened***

The Georgia Department of Transportation has abandoned its plans for a truck bypass of Bishop, moving the funding for the project into “long range,” according to Project Manager Bruce Anderson Jr.

GDOT made the decision because of a “lack of public consensus for the proposed alignment within Bishop,” Anderson said.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

Watkinsville Mayor And Council Hear From Critics Of ESP Plans For Harris Shoals Park

***Environmental Concerns Top List***

The Watkinsville Mayor and Council got push back–including from one member of its Advisory Board–last week on its still tentative plans to allow Extra Special People to construct a Miracle League Field and splash pad on four acres at Harris Shoals Park.

Vicki Soutar, chair of Oconeewaters and a member of the Harris Shoals Park Advisory Board Executive Committee, told the Mayor and Council that the proposed project would have significant negative impact on the park’s environment.

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Turnout In First Week Of Early Voting In Watkinsville On Track With Projection Of Final Turnout of About 30 Percent

***New Voting Machines Demonstrated***

In the first week of Absentee In Person, or early, voting, only 121 of Watkinsville’s 2,209 registered voters have cast a ballot, or 5.5 percent.

Early voting usually picks up some as the election gets closer, but, if it holds to the present pattern, only 363 people will cast a ballot before the Nov. 5 election, or 16.4 percent.

Friday, October 18, 2019

Defeated Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Stacey Abrams Still A Concern, Oconee County Republicans Told

***Watkinsville Mayoral Candidate Makes Partisan Appeal***

Democrat Stacey Abrams, who ran unsuccessfully for governor a year ago, is watching the outcome of the mayoral race in Watkinsville, Bob Smith, one of the two candidates in that contest, told Oconee County Republicans last month.

The race is nonpartisan, but Smith made it clear he is running as a Republican and told those gathered they needed to make sure he wins to send a message back to Abrams.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Regional Library Leaders Ask Oconee Library Board For Help In Seeking Exemption From Governor’s Budget Cuts

***Board Asked To Lobby Legislators***

Athens Regional Library System leaders asked member of the Oconee Library Board of Trustees on Monday to contact their state legislative delegation to oppose cuts to library funding requested by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Jean Mead, assistant director of Regional Library Services and Outreach for the Athens Regional Library System, told the Library Board that Kemp has included public libraries in his request that certain state agencies submit plans for a 4 percent budget reduction for the fiscal year underway.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

New Oconee County Superior Court Judge Told Local Democrats She Loves Her Job And Her Work Environment

***Raised Concerns About Budget Cuts***

Lisa Lott, Superior Court judge for the Western Judicial Circuit, told a gathering of Oconee County Democrats last month that her first months in office have been a wonderful experience.

“It has been great. It has been absolutely great,” Lott said. “It has really been a dream come true.”

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Oconee County Expects State To Reduce Volume Of Water To Be Withdrawn From Apalachee River, Citizens At Town Hall Meeting Told

***Waiting On New Permit***

Oconee County is expecting the Georgia Environmental Protection Division to modify its June 2008 Apalachee River Withal Permit and reduce the amount of water Oconee and Walton counties can withdraw from the river for the Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir.

The state Environmental Protection Division also is likely to add monitoring requirements to the permit, including using new stream flow gauges, quality monitoring stations and biological monitoring activities.

Friday, October 11, 2019

Oconee County School System Students Show A Drop In SAT Scores But An Increase In Graduation Rate

***Oconee Students Outperformed Students In State***

Oconee County students taking the SAT college admissions test in 2019 had a mean composite score of 1157, down a small amount from the average score of Oconee County students who took the test a year ago and up slightly from the average score of Oconee County students who took the test in 2017.

Oconee County schools increased its graduation rate to 97.7 percent in 2019, up from 94.4 percent a year earlier and from 90.5 percent in 2012.

Wednesday, October 09, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Tabled Rezone Request For Five Acres On Moores Ford Road

***Allow Smaller Lot Size***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners last week reversed course and unanimously approved a rezone for Tracie and Thomas Hedges allowing them to subdivide their five-acre parcel on Moores Ford Road near the Apalachee River into three lots of 1.67 acres each.

Guy Herring, director of Planning and Code Enforcement for the county, told the Commissioners that the staff had changed its view of the request and was recommending approval in part because the Hedges made their rezone request during a “transition period” in the county codes.

Monday, October 07, 2019

Oconee County Economic Development Taskforce Settles On Strategies In Final Scheduled Meeting

***Public Report At Town Hall Meeting***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners’ Economic Development Taskforce has identified three strategies for economic development for the county.

The county should invest in current businesses, create an environment for professional and technological innovation, and develop partnerships with the University of Georgia, the group has concluded.

Sunday, October 06, 2019

Election Forum In Watkinsville Drew Large Turnout For Mayoral And Council Candidates

***Citizen Questions Were Wide Ranging***

More than 100 people turned out on Thursday night for an election forum in Watkinville that featured a very respectful exchange between incumbent Mayor Dave Shearon and challenger Bob Smith.

Though Smith, a real estate agent and former state representative, has had open disagreements with the Watkinsville Council in recent months regarding development of his property, little of the tension was in evidence on Thursday night, until the very end.

Wednesday, October 02, 2019

Oconee And Walton Counties Waiting On State Renewal Of Water Withdrawal Permits For Hard Labor Creek Reservoir

***Decision Expected In November***

The Hard Labor Creek Regional Reservoir Management Board and the Walton County Water and Sewer Authority are waiting on final action by the Georgia Environmental Protection Division on a request for renewal of withdrawal permits from Hard Labor Creek and the Apalachee River.

Jimmy Parker, project manager for the reservoir, said “We have addressed all EPD comments related to water demand and future needs.”

Sunday, September 29, 2019

Regional Transportation Planning Committee Told About Citizen Input On Transportation Plan And High Speed Passenger Rail

***Citizens Favor Bike And Pedestrian Facilities***

Citizen feedback on the draft MACORTS 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan was wide-ranging, but positive comments on the inclusion of bike and pedestrian facilities on road projects, particularly in Oconee County, were dominant.

The Technical Coordinating Committee of MACORTS, the federally mandated metropolitan planning organization for the region, received a summary of the feedback before approving the draft 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan at its meeting on Wednesday morning in Athens.

Saturday, September 28, 2019

Oconee County To Have Its First Public Outdoor Pickleball Court At Herman C. Michael Park

***Board Responds To Public Request***

The many pickleball enthusiasts who turned out at the Oconee County Town Hall meeting in February got the good news on Tuesday that the county will resurface the six tennis courts at Herman C. Michael Park on Hog Mountain Road and stripe two of the courts for their sport.

The Board at its meeting on Tuesday tentatively agreed to a contract with Advance Athletic Services LLC of Dublin for $56,698 for resurfacing the two quick start courts and the four regulation tennis courts.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

Extra Special People Has Encountered Problems That Have Slowed Plans For Miracle League Field At Harris Shoals Park In Watkinsville

***Executive Director Told Garden Club***

Extra Special People has run into some obstacles that it must overcome as it sets in motion its plans to build a Miracle League Field at Harris Shoals Park in Watkinsville, Laura Whitaker, executive director of the organization, said earlier this month.

The project is going to require more money than originally anticipated, Whitaker told a gathering of the Watkinsville Garden Club meeting at Harris Shoals Park.

Monday, September 23, 2019

GDOT Moving Forward With Plans For Widening Of U.S. 441 Along Existing Route And With Truck Bypass Of Bishop

***Design Of Bypass Not Finalized***

The Georgia Department of Transportation has decided to move forward with the planned widening of U.S. 441 to four lanes along the existing route from Madison to Bishop.

It also is proceeding with plans for a truck bypass of Bishop, calling it the “more appealing alternative for localized traffic in the area.”

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Oconee County Schools Ended Fiscal Year With $2 Million Budget Surplus, School Administrator Reported To Board Of Education

***Also Gave Update On ELOST***

Oconee County Schools ended the 2018-2019 Fiscal Year with a budget surplus of just more than $2 million, Saranna Charping, school system chief financial officer, told the Board of Education last Monday.

Part of the savings came from the state declared “holiday” on the system’s contribution to the employer match for employee health care benefits, Charping said in response to a question from Board Member Tim Burgess.

Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Oconee County Is Creating An Economic Development Strategy From A Position Of Strength, Expert Says

***Housing Issue Should Be Addressed***

Oconee County is in a really strong position as it plans for the future, Craig Lesser, managing partner of the Pendleton Group, told the Oconee County Task Force on Economic Development on Tuesday morning.

The county has the third highest median household income among the state’s 159 counties, Lesser said.

Tuesday, September 17, 2019

Oconee County Proposing Closing Section Of Road And Contemplating Roundabouts Near North Oconee High School

***Discussions At Final Meeting Of Committee***

Oconee County is proposing the closing of Cole Spring Road from Snows Mill Road to Hog Mountain Road to address traffic problems, Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell told the Land Use and Transportation Planning Committee last week.

Daniell also said he can “envision” three roundabouts on Hog Mountain Road, one at Clotfelter Road, one at the entrance to North Oconee High School, and one at the Snows Mill Road and Rocky Branch Road intersection.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

Watkinsville Election Forum Set for Oct. 3 At City Hall

***Open To City And County Residents***

An election forum is set for 7 to 9 p.m. on Oct. 3 at Watkinsville City Hall for the city mayoral and council races as well as for the Sunday Brunch issue on the November ballot.

Incumbent Mayor Dave Shearon and former state representative Bob Smith have indicated they will attend. Both are running for mayor.

Saturday, September 14, 2019

First Meeting Of Oconee County Economic Development Task Force Scheduled For Tuesday

***At Chamber Of Commerce***

The newly formed Oconee County Economic Development Task Force is scheduled to hold the first of three meetings on Tuesday to help develop a plan for economic development in the county.

The meeting is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. at the Chamber of Commerce, 55 Nancy Drive in Watkinsville.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Enrollment In Oconee County Schools Increased This Year, But At Lower Rate Than Recent Years, School Board Told

***Roundabouts Discussed Again***

The census of enrollments in Oconee County Schools this fall showed 8,170 students attending the system’s 11 schools, an increase of 1.8 percent over the year earlier.

In his report to the Board of Education on Monday, Brook Whitmire, chief Human Resources officer, noted that the growth in enrollments was “a little bit less than what we’ve seen in the last few years.”

Sunday, September 08, 2019

Proposed Regional Transportation Plan Adds Pedestrian And Bicycle Facilities To Oconee County’s Hog Mountain And Daniells Bridge Roads

***Comment Sought At Meeting Monday Night***

The regional long range transportation plan now before the public for review makes significant changes to the current document and provides for both pedestrian and bicycle travel on two key roadways in Oconee County.

Both bicycle and pedestrian “facilities” would be added to Hog Mountain Road from Mars Hill Road in Butler’s Crossing to U.S. 441, passing the Presbyterian Homes complex now under construction at the Hog Mountain Road intersection with U.S. 441.

Friday, September 06, 2019

Oconee County Commission Struggles With Its New Residential Lot Size Requirements In Three Rezone Cases

***Split Votes And Split Decisions***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners unanimously voted Tuesday night to impose a minimum lot size of 1.5 acres on a 10.1-acre residential subdivision off Mars Hill Road and in a split vote agreed to allow a 42.5-acre residential subdivision off Ruth Jackson Road to have lots of only 1 acre.

The Board struggled with a request to create three lots out of a five-acre tract off Moores Ford Road near the Apalachee River and ended up tabling the request without a resolution.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Labor Shortage Is Threat To Growing Economy, Elected Officials Tell Oconee County Republicans

***Immigration Not Offered As Solution***

The economy in the country, the state of Georgia, and the region is very strong, 10th District Congressman Jody Hice and Georgia Labor Commissioner Mark Butler told a gathering of Oconee County Republicans last week.

That strong economy is threatened, both speakers said, by the shortage of labor to fill the jobs the strong economy is producing.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Approve Flat Property Tax Rates Following Public Hearings

***Rate Not Rolled Back For Inflation***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners formally approved property tax rates for the county on Tuesday night, adopting a millage rate of 6.686 for the unincorporated parts of the county and 7.626 in the county’s four cities.

The millage rates are unchanged from a year ago, but they represent a tax increase because property in the county has been assessed at a higher value this year than last, reflecting the inflationary forces in the market.

Wednesday, August 28, 2019

Oconee County’s Increase In Residential Lot Size Requirements Challenged At Planning Commission Hearings

***Four Cases Before Commission***

All four of the applicants who appeared before the Oconee County Planning Commission last week had a similar request.

Each had begun the rezone application to convert land now zoned for agriculture to residential use before the county changed its regulations on minimum residential lot sizes, and each wanted to follow the old regulations rather than the new ones.

Monday, August 26, 2019

Watkinsville To Hold Election For Mayor And One Contested Council Seat

***No Elections: Bogart, North High Shoals, Bishop***

Watkinsville alone among Oconee County’s four cities will hold an election this fall, with two candidates competing for the mayor of the city and two more competing for Post 2 on the City Council.

Incumbent Watkinsville Mayor Dave Shearon and Bob Smith, a real estate agent, filed paperwork last week qualifying for the mayoral contest.

Sunday, August 25, 2019

GDOT Has Given Oconee County A Long Range Transportation Plan With Recommendations For Roadway And Bikeway Improvements

***Not Yet Before Citizen Committee***

The Oconee County Board of Commissioners has not yet gotten around to appointing its new advisory committee on transportation.

Commission Chair John Daniell, has said, however, that its first order of business will be to review the 282-page report presented to the county by the Georgia Department of Transportation earlier this year.

Thursday, August 22, 2019

Oconee County Citizens To Get Opportunity To Comment On 2045 Metropolitan Transportation Plan

***Includes 13 Projects In County***

MACORTS, the metropolitan planning authority for Oconee County and its neighbors, is asking the public to comment on the 2045 draft of its Metropolitan Transportation Plan that includes 13 road projects in Oconee County on the prioritized project list.

Included is a last-minute update to the plan for widening Hog Mountain Road from Butler’s Crossing to U.S. 441. The update calls for a two-lane rather than four-lane road that also will include turn lanes, sidewalks and bike lanes.

Sunday, August 18, 2019

New Security System At Oconee County Schools Empowers Every Employee To Report Safety Threat To Schools And Sheriff’s Office

***System Demonstrated On Friday***

Every Oconee County School System employee–from the first-in-the-morning bus driver to the school superintendent–is now wearing an electronic alert system badge that can signal a school safety threat with three small taps of a button.

With the taps, the employee sends a signal to the school office and to the Oconee County Sheriff’s Office telling exactly who pushed the button and where that person is located.

Saturday, August 17, 2019

U.S. Senate Candidate Tomlinson Tells Oconee County Democrats They Only Need To Reduce Republican Margin In County In 2020

***Not Necessary To Flip County***

Former Columbus Mayor Teresa Tomlinson told Oconee County Democrats on Thursday night that they didn’t have to flip Oconee County for the party to be able to beat incumbent Republican David Perdue in the U.S. Senate race in November.

All they need to do is shave three or four percent off the county margin from Republican Gov. Brian Kemp’s victory over Democrat Stacey Abrams in 2018, Tomlinson said.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Oconee County School Board Officially Adopts Decrease In Millage Rate For Fiscal Year Underway

***Drop Of Half Point To 16.5 Mills***

The Oconee County Board of Education at its meeting on Monday officially adopted a millage rate of 16.5, down from the 17.0 from last year, and the lowest property tax rate collected for the county’s schools since 2003.

The millage rate vote was unanimous and expected, as the Board of Education had adopted a budget for the 2019-2020 Fiscal Year that began on July 1 based on the lowered rate.

Sunday, August 11, 2019

Oconee County Board Of Education Gets Another Report On School Performance On State Milestones Assessments

***SchoolDigger.Com Rating Touted***

Oconee County School System Chief Operating Officer Claire Buck on Monday returned to the performance of Oconee County Schools in the Spring 2019 state Milestones assessments in her report to the Board of Education.

Anisa Sullivan Jimenez, director of Communications for the school system, had told the Board at its July 29 meeting that Oconee County Schools had performed well in the results of the state testing, released on July 26.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

Oconee County Republicans Are Told Women Will Play A Crucial Role In The Party’s Future

***Two Of Three Speakers Focused On Women***

Women are crucial to the future of the Republican Party, two of the three speakers told the attendees at the June meeting of the Oconee County Republican Party.

Tim Echols, Public Service Commission vice chair, called on the “gentlemen” in the audience to help young women get “credentialed,” saying that the Democrats–particularly in the 2018 primaries–demonstrated the ability of female candidates to win elections.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Rezone Request For Morningside Subdivision Withdrawn, But Agenda For Oconee County Board of Commissioners Remains Full

***Event Venue Request Before Board***

Scout Construction LLC has decided it no longer wants Oconee County to grant it permission to violate the 40-foot buffers imposed in 2001 on six lots in Morningside subdivision on Hodges Mill Road.

Scout’s request for a modification of the 2001 rezone requirements is one of five major zoning issues on the agenda for the Oconee County Board of Commissioners meeting tomorrow (Tuesday) night.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Roundabouts Reduce Fatal And Injury Accidents, State Transportation Official Told Citizens At Oconee County Town Hall Meeting

***Roundabouts Dominated Questions Posed***

To get to the Oconee County Board of Commissioners’ Town Hall Meeting on Thursday, visitors had to walk through a simulated roundabout constructed in the lobby of the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road.

Once inside the meeting room, the visitors found easels with diagrams of roundabouts and explanations of the signage commonly found in them.

Friday, August 02, 2019

Oconee County Accepts Bid For Improvements To Mars Hill Road Intersection With Rocky Branch And Virgil Langford Roads

***Construction To Start Soon***

Oconee County commissioners on Tuesday tentatively approved a $702,447 bid by CMES Inc. of Norcross for reconstruction of the Mars Hill Road intersection with Rocky Branch Road and Virgil Langford Road.

The site construction plans call for the addition of right-hand and decel turn lanes as well as left-hand turn lanes on Mars Hill Road, Virgil Langford Road and Rocky Branch Road.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Student And Parents Tell Oconee County Board Of Education That Use Of Computers In Classroom Instruction Is Excessive

***Ask For Return Of Paper, Pencils And Books***

Fred Reifsteck IV, who next week will be a seventh grader at Oconee County Middle School, does not like the policy of the Oconee County Board of Education that fully integrates Chromebook computers into classroom instruction.

“I would rather use books and paper and not Chromebooks,” Reifsteck told the members of the Board at their regular meeting on Monday.

Wednesday, July 31, 2019

Oconee County Library Moving To Planned County Administrative Building On Northern Edge Of Watkinsville

***No Time Line For Move***

The Oconee County Library on Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville will expand and become a part of the county Administrative Building planned for the 7.63-acre tract the county has purchased just outside the northern boundary of Watkinsville on U.S. 441.

The county made the announcement of the move Tuesday evening following a vote by the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees to approve of the move on July 8.

Tuesday, July 30, 2019

Hearings Set For Tax Increases For Oconee County Schools And County Government

***Starting On Thursday***

Oconee County residents will have six chances starting on Thursday morning to tell their elected officials what they think about their decisions not to reduce property taxes to compensate for the effects of inflation on property values.

The Board of Education will hold the first of three public hearings at 10 a.m. on Thursday in the Board Meeting Room at the Superintendent’s Office, 34 School Street, Watkinsville.

Saturday, July 27, 2019

Candidate Williamson Asks Democrats For Help In Oconee County Republican Primary For Sheriff

***Questioned About Guns And School Safety***

Jimmy Williamson is running for Oconee County Sheriff as a Republican, but he asked Democrats assembled at the party meeting last month to help him with his campaign.

“Anybody that wants to help me get my name out, and help people understand that I’m the most qualified candidate, I appreciate the help,” Williamson said.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Oconee County Government And Schools Still Having Communication Problems Regarding Roundabouts At Malcom Bridge Middle School

***Operations Report Illustrates***

Oconee County government and Oconee County schools still are talking past each other regarding roundabouts at entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School.

Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell sent an email message to all five Board of Education members late on Monday morning, explaining that the county probably will not begin construction until next summer on the planned roundabouts at the parent and bus entrances to the middle school.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Watkinsville Wants Input From Users Of Harris Shoals Park As It Considers Major Additions To Facilities

***Survey Not Restricted To Residents***

The city of Watkinsville is seeking input from all users of Harris Shoals Park–not just from residents of the city–as City Council considers proposed major changes for the park.

The survey asks respondents how often they use the park, located off Experiment Station Road, and what kinds of improvements they would like to see at the park.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Oconee County Commission Moves Forward With Condemnation For Sewer Line Along Colliers And Barber Creeks

***9 Of 11 Easements In Hand***

Oconee County has obtained nine of the 11 easements for construction of a sewer line along Colliers Creek and Barber Creek that will be used to provide sewage treatment for the massive Parkside subdivision between Mars Hill Road and Hog Mountain Road.

Discussion with one of the remaining landowners is ongoing, according to County Attorney Daniel Haygood, but negotiations with the other–and most important landowner in terms of total needed acreage--has resulted in court action.

Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Georgia Department Of Transportation Picks Plan With Detour Route For New Apalachee River Bridge At High Shoals

***Bridge Links Oconee And Walton Counties***

While acknowledging citizen opposition to its plan, the Georgia Department of Transportation has decided that closing the SR 186 bridge over the Apalachee River at High Shoals and detouring traffic 15.8 miles around the construction of a replacement bridge is the preferred option.

The project is now in preliminary design stage, Mindy Sanders, GDOT project manager said Tuesday.

Sunday, July 14, 2019

Oconee County Planning Commission Has Full Agenda, Including For Commercial Development And Event Venue Along U.S. 78

***Also Being Asked To Allow New Subdivision***

The Oconee County Planning Commission has a full agenda Monday night, including a request for commercial development along U.S. 78 near the Walton County line and for a new subdivision in the far south of the county at the Greene County line.

In both cases, the request is to convert land designated for agricultural use to development.

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Postpone Decision On Buffer In Morningside Subdivision On Hodges Mill Road

***Will Reconsider On Aug. 6***

Unable to decide if a builder should be allowed to violate a buffer on six lots in Morningside subdivision off Hodges Mill Road to deal with storm water drainage, the Board of Commissioners last week put off a decision until its August meeting.

Commissioner Mark Saxon had made a motion to deny the request, and Commissioner Chuck Horton seconded the motion, but they could not get support from the other three commissioners.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Oconee County Planning Commission Sides With Existing Home Owners Rather Than Builder In Adjoining Subdivision

***Hodges Mill Road Rezone Request***

Jeff Carter of Carter Engineering told the Oconee County Planning Commission that his client, Jud Shiver, has discovered problems with six of the lots he bought back in 2013 in Morningside subdivision off Hodges Mill Road.

The lots do not drain well, Carter said, and Shiver, operating as Scout Construction LLC, wants to disturb the 40-foot buffer on the six lots to create a drainage ditch to solve the problem.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Oconee County Commissioners Agree To Purchase Land North Of Watkinsville For Administrative Building

***Following Executive Session***

Oconee County Commissioners decided Tuesday night to purchase 7.63 acres just outside of the northern boundaries of Watkinsville for a future administrative building.

The planned new facility will house the non-judicial government functions currently located in the Oconee County Courthouse in downtown Watkinsville and at the Oconee County Annex on Greensboro Highway on the south of Watkinsville.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

Oconee County School Board Approves $82 million Fiscal Year 2020 Budget With Millage Rate Drop

***Budget Includes Raises For All Employees***

The Oconee County Board of Education last week approved unanimously an $82.3 million Fiscal Year 2020 budget that includes a decrease in the millage rate from 17 to 16.5.

More than half of the revenue in the budget--55.0 percent--comes from the state, with local sources, primarily property taxes, contributing the remaining 45.0 percent.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Oconee County Commission Moves Forward With Construction Plans For Malcom Bridge Road Roundabouts

***Contract Awarded For First Of Three Roundabouts***

Oconee County commissioners are going forward with plans for construction of three roundabouts on Macolm Bridge Road, with construction on the first–at Mars Hill Road–to begin this summer.

Construction of roundabouts at the bus entrance and the parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School will take place at a later date, after the county gets new bids for the former and finalizes plans with a developer for the latter.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Lobbyist For Georgia Equality Reviewed 2019 State Legislative Session For Oconee County Democrats

***Praised Bill Sponsored By Rep. Gaines***

Shannon Clawson, lobbyist for Georgia Equality, told Oconee County Democrats last month that her group had a mixed record during the 2019 Georgia legislative session.

Clawson pointed to passage of a number of bills that she said served the interests of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender communities of the state.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

Oconee County Water Rates To Increase Only Slightly in Proposed 2020 Fiscal Year Budget

***Sewer Rates Unchanged***

Oconee County Water rates will increase only by pennies and sewer rates not at all as part of the $52.3 million Fiscal Year 2020 budget released to the public last week at the front of the usual Board of Commissioners meeting.

The occasion was the first formal public hearing on the budget, and only one citizen spoke in response.

Monday, May 27, 2019

Congressman Tells Oconee County Gathering That Memorial Day Is Day Of National Commitment Not To Forget

***Comments Made At Veterans Memorial***

Memorial Day is a day of national commitment not to forget those who lost their lives in defense of the country, Rep. Jody Hice told a crowd gathered today at the Oconee Veterans Memorial in Oconee Veterans Park.

Hice thanked those who turned out to honor “those who have given their lives” and their families who have suffered the loss as well.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Oconee County Planning Commission Recommends Against Impound Lot in Farmington

***Approves Expansion of Oconee Health Campus***

When Ben Hanley made his pitch last Monday before the Oconee County Planning Commission for an impound lot in Farmington, he had a nearly full room of citizens seated behind him.

Hanley said the county needs a second tow operator and impound lot, and he proposed expanding his Madison County business into Oconee County to meet that need.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Oconee County Commission Chair Proposes Moving Forward With Roundabouts At Malcom Bridge Middle School Entrances

***Cites Safety And Traffic Concerns***

Oconee County will go forward with construction of three roundabouts on Malcom Bridge Road, two at entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School, if the Board of Commissioners next month approves plans put forward at the Commission meeting Tuesday night.

Construction of two of those roundabouts–at Mars Hill Road and Malcom Bridge Road and at the bus entrances to Malcom Bridge Middle School–could begin this summer.

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 Brock 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.