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.