Friday, January 24, 2020

Oconee County Citizen Committees Begin Discussing Projects For 2021 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax Referendum

***For November Ballot***

Preparation for a vote this November on renewal of Oconee County’s Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax is underway.

County Administrator Justin Kirouac said he has asked county departments to develop projects lists and cost estimates and that the Board of Commissioners will discuss in February the schedule for creating the projects to be put before the voters in the fall.

Mark Campbell, chair of the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees, announced at the Board’s Jan. 13 meeting that the Oconee County libraries have been included in that solicitation and that the Library Board members should begin preparing a list of projects for the initiative.

At the Tuesday meeting of the Recreation Advisory Committee, Lisa D. Davol, director of the county’s Parks and Recreation Department, led the group through a nearly hour-long discussion of projects that might be included on the ballot for SPLOST in November.

Davol said additional tennis courts at Oconee Veterans Park and a new entrance to that park would seem to be likely top projects for the renewal of the 1 percent sales tax.

The Recreation Advisory Committee scheduled a 6 p.m. meeting on Feb. 18 at Oconee Veterans Park for citizens to provide input to the Committee as it narrows down and prioritize its list.

At the Library Board meeting, Cara Karnes, Oconee County Branch Managing Librarian, announced that the Friends of the Oconee County Library will hold is Winter Book Sale next month at the Oconee County Library, 1080 Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville.

The sale starts at 5 p.m. on Feb. 6 for members, though anyone can join at the door. Sales are from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. on Feb. 7 and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Feb. 8.

Recreation Advisory Committee List

Leslie Hunsinger, chair of the Recreation Advisory Committee, turned to Davol for discussion of the 2021 SPLOST at the Tuesday meeting at Oconee Veterans Park.

Davol

Davol said she “was hoping to get a long list” of projects that the Committee felt should be considered for inclusion in the SPLOST referendum.

At the end of the discussion, the Committee had created a list of 16 projects divided among the county’s four parks and an additional five projects, three of which are needed in all four of the parks and two of which do not fit into the existing parks.

The list included additional park land generally and the need to develop a greenway, trail connectivity, and a blueway, or water trail.

The list includes a pathway to the Oconee Veterans Memorial at the front of Oconee Veterans Park, scoreboards for fields at Herman C. Michael Park, netting and scoreboards at Bogart Sports Compex, and restrooms at Heritage Park.

The Committee did not rank order the items, and the list on the board at the end of the discussion was only a reflection of the order of the items as they were suggested by Committee members.

Veterans Park Entrance

Davol told the Recreation Advisory Committee the two projects that the Committee had put on its list in preparation for the 2015 SPLOST and that were not included by the Board of Commissioners in the list put to voters were six tennis courts at Oconee Veterans Park and a new entrance to that Park.

List Of Projects (Click To Enlarge)

The main entrance to the park is on Hog Mountain Road, though the county has begun using a second entrance via Autrey Road and Hodges Mill Road at peak periods of use of the park’s sports fields.

Davol said upgrading the roadway for full use of that second entrance and exit would be very expensive because of the need to replace a bridge along the roadway that crosses a creek with protected wetlands and the need to bring the roadway itself up to county standards.

The park will get a second entrance through the massive Parkside subdivision as part of a court settlement over sewer capacity with the Parkside developers, but Davol said another option might be via 20 acres that sits between Parkside and Oconee Veterans Park.

That property, according to county tax records, is owned by Rita V. Dooley of Suffolk, Va., and contains only an abandoned house built in 1920. The property fronts on Hog Mountain Road.

Davol told me in an email message on Wednesday that there are “No plans on purchasing the property, just discussions on properties surrounding the park as options for an extra entrance/exit.”

Citizen Comment

Mike Luffler, 1140 Brookshire Drive, off Rocky Branch Road, was the only citizen at the meeting other than I, and he offered comment on the list created by the Committee.

Luffler advocated for additional indoor and outdoor pickleball courts, saying the sport is growing in popularity.

County Administrator Kirouac, in an email message sent to me on Jan. 14 following the Library Board meeting, said that opportunity for citizen input will be considered by the Board of Commissioners when it discusses SPLOST next month.

“At this point we are just going to the Departments to gather their project lists and cost estimates,” Kirouac wrote.

“We're still formulating the overall timeline but will likely go to the BOC in February to discuss the overall process and will have the timeline and public input opportunities sorted out by then,” he continued.

The current SPLOST was approved by voters in May of 2014 and replaced the 2009 SPLOST, which expired in October of 2015. The current SPLOST is to expire on Sept. 30, 2021, according to the legal document approved by the Board of Commissioners setting up the SPLOST vote in 2014.

The Board of Commissioners held two public meetings–in January and February of 2014–to allow citizens to react to the list created by the county and suggest new items for the list to be put before the voters.

Historic Properties

As a result of citizen input, the Board of Commissioners had created a category in the current SPLOST for Historic and Scenic Facilities and allocated $250,000 for that use.

County Finance Director Wes Geddings told the Board of Commissioners at its meeting on Nov. 5 of last year that the county had not spent any of the money in the current SPLOST on Historic and Scenic Facilities or spent all of the money in the 2009 SPLOST also set aside for that purpose.

Following that meeting County Administrator Kirouac said he expected to have a proposal for spending on Historic and Scenic Facilities before the Board by the end of the calendar year.

Davol told the Recreation Advisory Committee that the county had completed an inventory of historic properties and that she anticipated that some funds would be allocated to preservation of buildings moved to Heritage Park on U.S. 441 in the far south of the county.

Kirouac told me in an email message on Wednesday that the agenda for the Tuesday meeting of the Board of Commissioners will include discussion of the inventory, created by Precision Planning Inc. of Lawrenceville.

The report lists five buildings at Heritage Park: Central School House, a Log Cabin, a Tenant House, a Milk House, and a Smoke House.

Repairs, some of them labeled “urgent,” are needed at all of the buildings, the report states.

Library Board And SPLOST

Library Board Chair Campbell said at the Jan. 13 meeting of the Board that the “initial call” had gone out for projects for the 2021 SPLOST. The meeting took place at the Oconee County Library on Experiment Station Road in Watkinsville.

Campbell And Board Member Mike Eddy

“The different departments in Oconee County got a letter from Justin Kirouac just asking for information,” Campbell said. “And so, they are building a list...And that is something that the library is generally a part of.”

Campbell said he had met a week earlier with Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell and County Administrator Kirouac to get “some clarification on what it was they were looking for.”

Campbell said the Library Board should identify capital projects for the library, not including the replacement of the Watkinsville Library, which is being funded through the existing SPLOST and a state grant. The 2015 SPLOST contains an allocation of $2 million for county libraries.

Board members suggested that funding for computers, furniture and vehicles should be considered.

Valerie Bell, Athens Regional Library System director, said the library will need money to furnish the new library once it is built and that the available money is not adequate for that purpose.

Campbell asked Library Board members to exchange ideas leading up to its April meeting regarding library needs.

Census Planning

Jean Mead, assistant director of Regional Library Services and Outreach for the Athens Regional Library System, told the Library Board as part of her report on regional activities that the Library System will be aiding with the 2020 U.S. Census.

Bell

“We want to make sure our communities can come to the libraries–all of the branches–and take the census there if they so desire,” Mead said. “A lot of the small rural areas don’t have really great broadband, so we want to be sure that we have facilities for them to take it if they so desire.”

The two Oconee County libraries–in Watkinsville and Bogart–are part of the Athens Regional Library System.

Athens Regional Library System Director Bell encouraged Board members to attend a Feb. 13 session at the statehouse to talk with legislators.

Bell praised the local delegation, but she said it was particularly important to communicate about the importance of the libraries given the cuts in state funding proposed by Gov. Brian Kemp.

Bell also announced that the Watkinsville library soon will be getting a 3D printer.

Video

The first video below is of the Jan. 21 meeting of the Recreation Advisory Committee.

Davol began discussion of the 2021 SPLOST at 16:35 in the video.

Her discussion of the historic properties at Heritage Park came before that, starting at 13:05.

The second video below is of the Jan. 13 meeting of the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees.

Campbell discussed the 2021 SPLOST at 30:44 in the video.

Mead had made her comments about the Census at 8:32 in the video.

Bell followed with her comments on the legislative session on Feb. 13, beginning at 10:27.

2 comments:

7thgen said...

We need to make sure that no more sewer projects are approved. That is there top priority because they want to have the entire county developed out.

Xardox said...

It does not escape notice that the committees are forming
around pools of money which are assumed will be approved by voters.
Unspent funds are already sitting in accounts from more than one year's approvals.
Not to mention "spending" seems to rule the day.
Georgia law states that unspent funds are to be "returned to the taxpayers." That all it says; not when, how, or where. So... It isn't.