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.
The presentation by county Finance Director Wes Geddings listed $9 million in Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax Spending for the upcoming fiscal year, with the largest single expenditure being $2.5 million for the Courthouse security renovation and expansion.
Geddings also said the county will spend up to $1 million from its reserves for the proposed Bishop Farms Parkway extension. Total construction cost for that project is expected to be between $1.2 and $1.6 million, with another $200,000 for design.
The county spent $2.6 million from its reserves in Fiscal Year 2018 for Dove Creek Elementary School right of way and road improvements, Geddings said, and ended that fiscal year with $13.8 million in the fund balance.
Fund balance for the current fiscal year is projected to be $10.3 million, Geddings said.
The Fiscal Year 2020 budget assumes no change in the county millage rate of 6.686 in the unincorporated parts of the county and 7.646 in the county’s four cities, but it is based on expected growth in the county’s revenue, largely from property tax and sales tax, of 4.5 percent.
Gedding spoke for 18 minutes at the public hearing, providing an overview of the budget.
Little had changed since he revealed the budget to commissioners at their own hearing on April 23.
Geddings released publicly for the first time the fee schedule for the county for Fiscal Year 2020, which provided the information on the water and sewer rates.
William Mayberry, 70 Cedar Drive in Watkinsville, was the only citizen to speak, and Mayberry criticized the Commission for not spending money collected in the past from the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
Commission Chair John Daniell and Geddings told Mayberry most of the reserves will have been spent by the end of the 2020 Fiscal Year.
The Board proposes to take final action on the budget at its regular meeting scheduled for June 4.
The Fiscal Year 2020 General Fund Budget, which covers most of the county’s revenue and spending, is $30,507,038.
That is up from $29,041,823 in the current budget as approved, and up from $29,200,266 in the amended budget.
Law Enforcement, the jail, and E911 account for 27 percent of the budget.
Public Works is 14 percent of the budget, and Parks and Recreation is 11 percent.
The total budget of $52,348,278 includes Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax revenue and spending of $9,017,379 and the Water Resources Department budget of $11,219,845.
The Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax spending in the proposed 2020 Fiscal Year Budget includes $1.7 million for water and sewer projects, $1.6 million for roads, and $0.76 million to retire the bond for Oconee Veterans Park.
In response to Mayberry’s comments, Daniell and Geddings said that at the end of the 2020 Fiscal Year SPLOST surpluses from the 2004 and 2009 referenda would be largely spent.
The $2.5 million for the expansion now underway at the rear of the Courthouse will use up the reserve from the 2004 SPLOST, they said.
The exception is 2009 SPLOST money for historical and scenic facilities.
Geddings said there is $223,000 in “unprogrammed” money for that purpose in the 2009 SPLOST
The 2015 SPLOST budgeted another $250,000 for “Historical and Scenic Facilities,” but nothing has been spent from that account.
The next SPLOST will be in 2021.
Water and Sewer Rates
The base residential water rate for up to 1,000 gallons remains the same in the new budget at $15.33. A super saver discount of $3.09 is to be applied to users who do not use more than 1,000 gallons, as is the case this year.
The new water rate, per 1,000 gallons, for up to 7,000 gallons will be $5.29 per gallon, up from $5.23 in the current budget.
The rate per 1,000 gallons for usage from 7,001 gallons to 14,000 gallons will be $7.23 per gallon, up from $7.16 as present.
The rate per 1,000 gallons for usage from 14,001 gallons and above will be $9.18 per gallon, up from $9.08.
Commercial water rates increase from $6.29 per 1,000 gallons to $6.36.
Sewer rates remain unchanged, with the base charge for residential customers of $15.41 per 1,000 gallons and then $5.54 for each additional 1,000 gallons of treated wastewater.
The commercial base charge will be $37.40, the same as in the current budget.
Bishop Farms Parkway
Geddings used the $1 million figure for the Bishop Farms Parkway in his budget overview, saying that amount had been committed in the current fiscal year as an expenditure from the county’s fund balance or reserves.
After the meeting, Commission Chair Daniell told me the current construction estimate for the project is between $1.2 million and $1.6 million.
Of that amount, the Georgia Department of Transportation has committed $600,000, Daniell said.
The University of North Georgia has committed an additional $200,000 for design work on the project.
The extension of the existing Bishop Farms Parkway from its dead end at the University of North Georgia will connect with New High Shoals Road, giving the college a second entrance and exit.
(Daniell told me in an email message on the morning of 5/31/2019 that the county requested the $600,000 from the Georgia Department of Transportation in February of 2018 and learned that the request had been approved in March of 2018.)
The Board of Commissioners is scheduled to approve the 2020 Fiscal Year Budget at its regular meeting on June 4.
County Administrator Justin Kirouac told me in an email message today that the Board will hold another public hearing on the budget before taking a vote.
That meeting begins at 6 p.m. at the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
The video below is of the Budget Hearing on May 21.
Ah, yes- no increase in mil rate, only my property assessment went up and ergo my taxes.
Let’s face it, this bunch can spend Property and SPLOST taxes at a fast pace for their projects.
You can stand before the BOC and discuss financial responsibility. You may get a nod and a grin as our pockets are picked.
Why bother - that is, until the next next election.
State Law and The Commissioners' Handbook state plainly that unspent SPLOST monies are to be returned to "the citizens" and is to be used to "reduce property taxes."*
Neither state how long Boards are to delay the return or how that is done. This is how it is a Board can hold on the money for (in this case) 15 years.
I am not sure that I criticized the Board particularly but questioned that policy and process are unclear. I believe I was respectful.
As a fiscal conservative, I do pay attention to the money.
I also must give praise to the Board to how my questions answered respectfully, properly, and fully.
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