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.
Two of them asked the commissioners to roll back the millage rate to offset the increased property tax assessment.
The increased assessment will result in an owner of a $350,000 home in the county paying $56.03 more this coming year than last year and the owner of a $350,000 home in one of the county’s four cities paying $77.28 more in county taxes this year than last year.
The Board on Tuesday also affirmed the millage rate of 16.5 set by the Board of Education, and that rate will result in the owner of that $350,000 home paying $74.93 more this year than last in taxes for the county’s schools.
The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday also tentatively agreed to spend $216,257 with Moreland Altobelli of Duluth to complete required plan updates in advance of the January 2021 letting of a construction contract for the widening of Experiment Station Road from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 bypass.
The adoption of the millage rates by the Board was expected, as it had passed a budget that took effect on July 1 based on those rates. State law required the Board to hold the public hearings before formally approving the rate.
At the first Tax Hearing on Aug. 6, John Webb, 1320 Bent Creek Road, off Hodges Mill Road, said he “has been attending these meetings for several years. Sometimes I feel like a voice crying in the wilderness.”
“Many citizens are on a fixed income,” Webb told the Board. “An increase in property taxes year after year affects their standard of living and probably their ability to make ends meet.”
Amry Harden, 1100 Briar Lakes Court, off Mars Hill Road, said “I do want to echo Mr. Webb’s sentiments” and asked the Board to consider “as a goal” rolling back the rates.
Robert Ward, 1360 Tarpley Lane, off Mars Hill Road, showed up at the hearing on the morning of Aug. 27 and merely asked what the county was doing with the revenue from the tax increase.
Commission Chair John Daniell said most of the money will go to health care insurance rate increases and pay increases and into county roads.
Experiment Station Road
The county has acquired the needed rights of way for the widening of Experiment Station Road from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 Bypass and cleared the land of signage and buildings in those rights of way.
County Public Works Director Jody Woodall said that the right of way phase of the project was certified in 2016 “but due to funding it was put on the shelf.”
Funding had been in the 2022 Georgia Department of Transportation Budget, Woodall said, “but that has moved forward to January of 2021 as the let date for the project.”
As a result, the county is required to update the plans and the environmental studies, and Woodall requested authorization to put Moreland Altobelli back under contract for the work.
Funding for the widening project will be entirely from the state, Woodall said, and that will ease some of the environmental regulations.
The Board put the contract with Moreland Altobelli on the consent agenda for final action at its meeting on Tuesday.
Civic Center Renovations
Shawn Wheeler, director of the Oconee County Civic Center, told the Board on Tuesday that the Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, is now 26 years old and “We’re having a difficult time adequately meeting the needs of the citizens of Oconee County.”
The reasons for this are many, Wheeler said, “but mostly it is just because the building is dated.”
The original plans for spending the $1.2 million set aside as part of the 2015 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax called for some new construction, Wheeler said, but those plans have changed.
Now that money will be used for replacement of the heating and air conditioning system, for an upgrade to the lighting, for a new audio-video system, and for improvements to the theatrical rigging.
Work should be completed next summer, Wheeler said.
Carole Ludwig, chair of the county’s Farmland Preservation Committee, told the Board that her Committee has identified at least one farm, and possibly as many as three farms, that are eligible for protection under the county’s program.
Ludwig said she understands that the county will not contribute to the funding of the conservation easement that must be purchased on the property, as it has in the past.
Such local funding is no longer necessary as a match for the federal funding, Ludwig said.
Commission Chair Daniell said the county already has spent all of the funds set aside in the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on farms previously identified by the Committee and still wants to be involved in the selection process.
Ludwig said she would provide the rankings of the five farms examined by the Committee to the Commission.
County Administrator Justin Kirouac provided what he called a Long-Term Facilities Strategy near the end of the Board meeting on Tuesday.
|Kirouac and County Clerk Kathy Hayes 8/27/2019|
Kirouac said construction of the Courthouse addition will be completed by the end of 2019.
Ultimately, all of the administrative functions now in the Courthouse will move to a planned Administrative Building on the northern edge of Watkinsville where U.S. 441 intersects with SR 15 (the extension of North Main Street), Kirouac said.
The Oconee County Library and all of the offices now in the Annex on SR 15 on the south of Watkinsville also will move to the new building.
Actual planning for the new Administrative Building will get underway at the end of this year or early next year, Kirouac said.
Animal Shelter, Fire Stations, Other Buildings
The Animal Shelter will be upgraded at its current site, Kirouac said.
The Senior Center is seeking a grant for expansion, Kirouac noted.
Two fire stations, one in the Eastville area (Malcom Bridge Road and Hodges Mill Road) and the other in the Barnett Shoals Road area, are in the plans, according to Kirouac.
The county is likely to sell the Ward Building, which now houses operations and is across Third Street from the Courthouse, Kirouac said. The same is true for the Board of Elections and Registration building on the other side of the Courthouse, he said.
The County is likely to “repurpose” the current Watkinsville Library Building, Kirouac said.
The plan is to sell the Annex property as well, according to Kirouac.
The first video below is from the Board of Commissioners meeting on Aug. 27.
Discussion of the Experiment Station Road widening is at 23:55 in the video.
Discussion of the Civic Center begins at 29:28 in the video.
Ludwig’s presentation on the Farmland Preservation Committee report is at 38:22 in the video.
Kirouac’s discussion of facilities begins at 47:55.
The second and third videos are from the Tax Hearing on Aug. 6 and the Tax Hearing on the morning of Aug. 27. No one spoke at the Tax hearing in the evening of Aug. 27.
Sarah Bell recorded the Tax Hearing on Aug. 6.
The final video is from the Board of Commissioners meeting from Aug. 6.
I was out of the country and unable to attend that meeting. Sarah Bell did attend and recorded the video.
I had posted in advance about the Aug. 6 meeting before I went out of town.
Aug. 6 Zoning Decisons
In brief, the Board approved the request by JDG Investments LLC, representing James D. Garner, 7 South Main Street in Watkinsville, for a special use for 72.81 acres zoned agricultural at 4800 Monroe Highway (U.S. 78) near the Walton County line for an event venue.
The Board also approved the request by JDG Investments to rezone 28.34 acres of highway frontage from its present agricultural classification to general business and highway business.
Included in the commercial sector, according to the submitted plans, are specialty shops, a “farm-to-table style restaurant,” and a two-story “boutique” hotel with 30 guest rooms.
The Board also approved the request by Elder Farm LP of Gainesville to rezone 64.31 acres at 6191 Colham Ferry Road from its current agricultural classification to agricultural and residential use to allow for subdivision of the property into five single-family residential lots.
The Board approved the request by D.T. Sanders of Athens to rezone 2.74 acres at 1021 Barber Creek Drive off Mars Hill Road from AR (Agricultural Residential) to B-1 (General Business) to construct two medical/professional office buildings.
Finally, the Board approved the request by Terrick Holdings LLC of Athens to rezone 1.52 acres at 1040 Talus Street near Belfair subdivision northwest of U.S. 78 from OIP (Office Institutional Professional) to R-1 (Single Family Residential).