Oconee County Schools is initiating a new fee schedule on July 1 for use of its athletic facilities by the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department that, according to the county, will increase the costs to the county by about $60,000.
Supt. Jason Branch informed the county in a letter dated June 26, 2019, that the School system plans to terminate a 2010 agreement with the county that covers the use by the county and the school system of county and school system facilities.
The new fees and the lack of a new agreement came to light on Tuesday at the Board of Commissioners meeting, where Lisa Davol, director of the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department, asked the Board to increase fees for tackle football by $20 to cover the new fees.
That will increase the costs to parents from $195 to $215 per child.
“I think it’s unfortunate that they’re picking on children to target five commissioners,” Commissioner Chuck Horton said during a nearly seven minute discussion that followed Davol’s presentation to the Board. Horton, a former chair of the Board of Education, dominated that exchange.
The Board put off a vote on the proposed fee schedule for tackle football until its next meeting on Tuesday with the expectation that the Board of Education will discuss a new Joint Use Agreement at its meeting on Monday.
In other action Tuesday, the Board received a schedule leading up to a November vote on renewal of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, a draft of a modified Alcoholic Beverage Ordinance, updates on the work of the Tourism and Visitors Bureau and on negotiations for broadband improvements, and an authorization to seek additional information on the lagging sales tax revenue in the county.
Davol, in her report to the Board on Tuesday, reminded the Board that it was aware that the county had received the June 2019 letter from Supt. Branch indicating that the school system was terminating the 2010 Joint Use Agreement effective July 1.
Since receipt of the letter from Branch, Davol said, she has met with Dallas LeDuff, director of student services for Oconee County Schools, to discuss a new joint use agreement.
While that agreement has not been finalized, Davol said, “The school system has determined at this point to charge the Parks and Recreation Department programs for use of their facilities for any of our programs.”
This new charge will affect tackle football, soccer and basketball programs, Davol said.
“I’m here tonight because tackle football actually crosses fiscal years,” she said, necessitating action by the Board effective in April when spring registration starts.
To cover the costs that Oconee County Schools will charge to the county, Davol said, the county Parks and Recreation Department will need to increase the fee for each of these sports. For tackle football, that will result in an increase from $195 per child to $215.
Fees for the other programs will be increased by $20 as well and will be set when the Board adopts its new budget and new fee schedule later this year for Fiscal Year 2021, which starts on July 1 of 2020, Davol said.
“There will be a financial impact for fees for the Parks and Recreation Department budget in terms of rental, land and buildings,” Davol said, “but those costs will be associated with our fee increases for participants to cover that.”
That existing Joint Use Agreement, dated Nov. 2, 2010, and signed by then Board of Commissioners Chair Melvin Davis and then Board of Education Chair David Weeks, covered joint use of the county’s and the school systems’ athletic facilities.
The agreement states that the county has access to “facilities at Oconee County High School, North Oconee High School, their respective feeder schools and any future facilities to be constructed in Oconee County” for “community recreation activities conducted by the county.”
Oconee County Schools has “access to such facilities at Herman C. Michael Park, Bogart Sports Complex, Heritage Park and the Oconee Veterans Park and any future Park facilities constructed in Oconee County” for “competitive interscholastic activities conducted by the School District,” according to the agreement.
The agreement states that the school system grants access to its facilities “at no charge” and that the county grants access to its facilities to the school system “at no charge.”
If custodial or technical staff are required by the school system or the county, each may charge “actual costs for services rendered beyond normal work shift hours and only for duties performed as a direct result” of the event, according to the agreement.
The agreement was to run for 10 years but can be terminated by written notice 365 days after either party gives notice.
“Although we will not be extending the term of the existing agreement, we look forward to negotiating a new joint use agreement between the Oconee County Board of Commissioners and the Oconee County Board of Education,” Branch wrote in his letter of June 26, 2019.
“We appreciate the partnership that continues between both entities, and look forward to working together to serve the students and citizens of Oconee County in the future,” the letter continues.
Board of Commissioners Chair Daniell said the county will be asked to not only pay a fee for field or court use but also a fee for “any kind of field lights, custodial services, score board use, those type things are all charges to that facility use.”
“I did a quick tally. If we use the football field, have a supervisor, custodial use, PA, scoreboard, lights, it’s like $210 an hour,” Commissioner Mark Saxon said.
Davol said the proposal does not include a supervision fee “because we do supervise all of our programs in the school system.” So the total would be $170 per hour, she said.
“I can tell you I don’t like it at all,” Horton said. “I don’t know if it’s a tit for tat with the school system with their issues with us, but to put it on families and kids when these youngsters are moving up through our rec program, play at the middle school and high school. I just think its unfortunate.”
“I just think this is uncalled for,” Horton said. “I’ve not seen anything that justifies where they need to have that money--additional money.”
No County Fees
“In the agreement, there was an opportunity for us to charge them,” Daniell said, “but we decided not to do that. Our stance on not charging the School Board has been communicated.
“I spoke to the Board chairman and then two other members in a separate meeting,” Daniell said. I think Justin has had communication with the superintendent. And so our stance is kind of out there and has been communicated directly to the Board.”
Tom Odom is the Board of Education chair. Justin Kirouac is the county administrator, who, sitting to Daniell’s right, did not contradict Daniell’s comment.
Horton asked Davol if there had been any problem with the county covering maintenance costs for the fields it has used.
“There has not,” Davol said. “In the last several years, we have paid the school system a custodial fee. We’ve paid them $25 an hour just to use the high school football stadiums on game days. And there has been a few other things here and there in terms of some field maintenance that we have assisted with in terms of funding.”
Question Of Communication
The Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners have been at odds since the late summer of 2018 over road improvements to Malcom Bridge Road and entrances to Malcom Bridge Elementary School and Malcom Bridge Middle School.
The Board of Education refused to grant rights of way at the bus and staff entrance to the two schools and at the parent entrance to the Middle School that would have allowed the county to build roundabouts it proposed for those intersections.
At the Board of Education meeting on Feb. 3 of this year, Board Member Tim Burgess said “several of us have had different conversations with individual members of the Commission over the last three or four months about that roundabout and the issues associated with it,” referring to the parent entrance roundabout.
“And it seemed that maybe the Commission was beginning to maybe reassess whether or not the roundabout in front of the parent entrance was the right approach or not given the conversations we’ve had,” Burgess continued.
Burgess then asked Chief Operations Officer Brock Toole, “In your conversations with the staff over there, have you gotten any information out of them that suggests that they are still moving forward with the roundabout or rethinking it or are in some stage of debate about that?”
Toole said “They will not be doing that roundabout at the parent entrance.”
Contradicting the suggestion by Burgess that there was uncertainty about the Board of Commissioners position, Commission Chair Daniell told me on Feb. 5 that “the roundabout at the parent entrance is not under consideration at this time and the BOE was aware of that decision in October of 2019.”
Open Record Request
I filed an open records request with the county on Feb. 7 asking for any record of a scheduled event involving Commission Chair John Daniell with any member of the Oconee County Board of Education from Sept. 1, 2019, through today.”
I asked for “any notes he or anyone else took during any such meeting.”
“For each meeting, if there is a record of location of the meeting, please provide it to me,” I wrote. “If there is a record of those who attended the meeting, or its location and duration, please provide it to me as well.”
On Feb. 10, Tracye Y. Bailey, administrative assistant/deputy clerk/alternate open records officer, sent me five calendar pages.
According to those records, Daniell met with Burgess and Board of Education Member Wayne Bagley on Oct. 1 and Oct. 15, 2019, at the Board of Education office, and on Feb. 3, 2020, at Daniells Office in the Courthouse.
The meeting on Feb. 3–the same day that Burgess asked Toole about the county’s position on the roundabout at the parent entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle School–was at 9 a.m.. The School Board meeting was at 6 p.m.
The calendars I received also showed a meeting between Daniell and Board of Education Member Amy Parrish on Jan. 30. It did not give a location.
Bailey also sent me notes from Daniell indicating that Commission Mark Thomas also attended the meetings with Bagley and Burgess on Oct. 1 and 15 of 2019 and on Feb. 3.
No Notes From Meetings
Bailey’s response indicated that Daniell had no notes from the meetings with the Board of Education members, and Daniell confirmed that to me in a telephone conversation.
The meetings fall outside the state’s Open Meetings Law because only two of the five members of the two Boards attended. No notice of the meetings, no agenda for the meetings, and no minutes of the meetings were required.
I sent email messages to Daniell, Thomas, Bagley, Burgess and Parrish on Feb. 20 asking them to confirm that the meetings took place, that they attended, and to provide “a one or two sentence summary of what was discussed.”
Burgess wrote back on Feb. 20 and said “I attended these three meetings with John. All three meetings were to discuss with John the status of the County’s proposed road changes in front of the two Malcolm Bridge schools and my concerns with them.”
Bagley wrote to Burgess that same day saying “Thank you for responding to Lee. Rather than reply separately I will concur with your response and am copying Lee herein.”
Daniell wrote back on Feb. 24 and said “The October 1st meeting did occur. I was present and we discussed the Malcom Bridge Road improvements. The October 15th meeting did occur. I was present and we discussed the Malcom Bridge Road improvements."
Daniell also wrote that the “The Feb 3rd meeting did occur with Wayne and Tim. I was present and we discussed concepts for the Malcom Bridge Road improvements. A brief mention of the school use agreement also occurred.” The reference was to the Joint Use Agreement for the sports facilities.
Thomas wrote back on Feb. 25 and said “I attended the 8:30 am meeting on October 1, 2019 at the BOE office with Tim Burgess, Wayne Bagley and John Daniel. We discussed Malcom Bridge Road concepts.”
Thomas said “I attended the 8:30 am meeting on October 15, 2019 at the BOE office with Tim Burgess, Wayne Bagley and John Daniel. We discussed Malcom Bridge Road concepts.
“I attended the 9:00 am meeting on February 3, 2020 at the BOC Chairmen’s office with Tim Burgess, Wayne Bagley and John Daniel. We discussed Malcom Bridge Road concepts and school use fees,” Thomas said.
Parrish And Follow-Ups
Parrish wrote me back on Feb. 20 and said “We did meet on the morning of Jan 30 at Jittery Joe's in Watkinsville. We see each other regularly at Rotary but don't have time to talk so we scheduled a time.
“It was just a get to know each other better meeting,” Parrish said. “There wasn't a specific agenda. We talked about family and professional backgrounds. We also talked briefly about our preferred methods of communication.”
Daniell, in reference to the meeting with Parrish, wrote on Feb. 24 that “The meeting did take place at Jittery Joes in Watkinsville. We discussed our backgrounds and communication between the two boards.”
I wrote back to Bagley and Burgess on Feb. 26, asking them to elaborate on “your concerns” with “the proposed road changes in front of the Malcom Bridge School entrances.”
I also wrote: “In addition, would it be fair to say that you have been satisfied with the status quo, which I believe can be described as having a deputy direct traffic at the two entrances in the mornings and evenings?”
I did not hear back from either Bagley or Burgess.
I resent the request on Feb. 28 but have not heard back from either Bagley or Burgess.
Notes From Davol
In an email exchange this week, Davol said she has not “been provided a finalized new Joint Use Agreement by the school system. It is my understanding that the school system may be discussing the item at their next BOE meeting,” she added, echoing what Daniell said at the BOC meeting on Tuesday.
Based on Oconee County Parks and Recreation “usage of school facilities over the past year, financial impact to Parks and Recreation would be approximately $60,000 per year,” she wrote
In the past, the school system has charged a $25 per hour custodial fee to utilize the high school stadiums for tackle football games, Davol wrote. “They have not charged a field fee, scoreboard fee or sound system fee in the past. The only other fee the school system has charged is a $5 per week per After School system fee.”
“The county has not charged a fee, custodial or otherwise, to the school system,” she said.
The county Parks and Recreation Department uses gyms at High Shoals, Dove Creek, Colham Ferry, and Malcolm Bridge elementary schools and at Malcom Bridge and Oconee County middle schools, according to Davol. It also uses the auxiliary gym at Oconee County High School, she added.
|Thomas, Horton, Davol (Back To Camera) 2/25/2020|
The county also uses the football fields at Malcom Bridge Middle School and Oconee County Middle School and at Oconee County High School and at North Oconee High School, she said.
It also uses the micro field at Oconee County Middle School next to the softball field, according to Davol.
Oconee County Schools uses the softball fields at Oconee Veterans Park, where the middle school softball teams practice and play their games and where the high school fall tournament is held, according to Davol.
The high school 7v7 soccer tournament also is at Oconee Veterans Park, according to Davol, and school 4H events and livestock shows are at Heritage Park.
Other occasional uses by the school system includes Oconee Veteran Park and Heritage Park trails, Herman C. Michael Disc Golf Course, the pavilions at both Oconee Veterans Park and Herman C. Michael Park, and the playgrounds at Oconee Veterans Parks and Herman C. Michael Park, according to Davol.
Middle School end-of-the-year field days often take place at county parks, Davol said, and numerous school meetings are held at the Oconee Veterans Park Community Center, according to Davol.
County Administrator Kirouac at the Board of Commissioners at the meeting on Tuesday laid out for the first time publicly the time line for adoption of the call for the 2021 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax referendum, which is to be on the ballot in November.
Kirouac said “currently in the background projects are being gathered” to be included as part of the SPLOST package that will go before voters. The voters will decide if the 1 percent sales tax is to be continued beyond the expiration of the 2016 tax at the end of 2021.
A Town Hall meeting at Oconee Veterans Park is scheduled for April to give citizens the first chance to see the list. At that meeting, Kirouac said, the commissioners can “discuss projects, gather input.”
Daniell said the “final proposed list” of projects will be discussed again at the Board of Commissioners agenda setting meeting on April 28.
The schedule that Kirouac presented has the Board of Commissioners voting to authorize the November election at its meeting on July 28.
County Attorney Daniel Haygood told the Board that state law allows for the sale of alcoholic beverages at catered functions for nonprofit, civic organizations.
The Chamber of Commerce would be an example, he said, as well as the county’s newly created Tourism Visitors Bureau.
“We’ve never had a provision in our ordinance to allow this,” Haygood said. “So what I have done is prepare a rewritten ordinance that would include some provisions that would allow it.”
The new ordinance defines a catered function as well as a licensed alcoholic beverage caterer.
At present, Haygood said, only restaurants in the county would meet the definition of a licensed beverage caterer, but state law would allow a licensed alcoholic beverage caterer from another jurisdiction to come into the county.
The new ordinance would create a new type of license, Haygood said. It would be for a licensed alcoholic beverage caterer.
The Board agreed to give first reading at its agenda setting meeting on March 31 and to consider adoption of the ordinance at it meeting on April 7.
Tourism And Visitors Bureau
Kirouac told the commissioners that the county’s tourism department has been transformed into a 501(c)6 Tourism Visitors Bureau. In the past, the county used the Chamber of Commerce as the organization that was allowed to receive funds from the Motel/Hotel Tax.
|Kirouac And County Clerk Kathy Hayes 2/25/2020|
Kirouac invited Kristy Curtis, executive director of tourism for the county, to summarize the work her office has been doing in collaboration with the Board of Commissioners-appointed Tourism and Visitors Bureau Board.
Curtis told the commissioners the Tourism Visitors Bureau markets five “pillars” of the county: history, art, events, activities and shopping/dining.
Based on a survey of visitors to the county, Curtis said, the average visitor is 52 years old, stays 1.5 days, travels 233 miles, and spends $92.40 per day. According to the survey, she said, 80 percent of the visitors come to the county for leisure, with the remainder coming to visit family.
The county is projecting that it will collect $182,542 from the hotel/motel tax for the current Fiscal Year, Curtis said, and that money, by state law, can only be used for marketing.
Kirouac told the Commission that legislation pending in the Georgia House of Representatives (HB 76), were it to pass, would allow the Tourism Visitors Bureau to spend some portion of its funds on capital projects, such as trails or river walks.
Kirouac said the county received four submittals in response to its request for proposal for expanded broadband infrastructure in the county. The county invited three of those submitters in for interviews, he added.
Those were Smart Cities Capital, Comcast and Charter Spectrum, he told the Board of Commissioners.
Kirouac said the top bidder was Smart Cities Capital, which he described as a consortium that would use Point Broadband of West Point, north of Columbus, as the final end user of the infrastructure.
“Nokia would be the technology behind it,” Kirouac said.
The Board tentatively authorized Kirouac to negotiate with Smart Cities Capital, first, and then the other two companies if necessary, to get the best outcome for the county.
The item will be on the consent agenda at the meeting on Tuesday for final action.
Sales Tax Data
The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday also put on the consent agenda a resolution naming County Finance Director Wes Geddings as the “designated officer” to receive sales tax information from the Georgia Department of Revenue.
State law now allows the Department or Revenue to provide to such a designated officer “certain information relating to vendors that have submitted sales tax reports within the period of time set forth in that request” and to “validate, from time to time, the political subdivision to which sales taxes are being remitted by taxpayers with a business location within that local government's boundaries.”
|Based On Finance Department Data|
Click To Enlarge
Geddings said the law allowing access to this information had been approved only last year.
“We don’t have a full year yet of data,” Geddings said, “so we’ve not requested any data yet but I have to be reappointed in order to do that. Probably around August of this year we can get a full 12 months of data.”
“I know we have many questions about what’s happening in the community as far as economics and sales tax,” Geddings said. “It has flattened, but there’s probably many, many theories on that.
“A lot of restaurants closing just in the last three months and other things,” Geddings said. “But really without that data, it’s hard to really pinpoint some of the things we’re seeing as far as the industries, whether it’s home building or home improvement stores or retail, what type of retail.
“Because we do have, we’re getting, a pretty diverse tax base,” Geddings added.
The current Fiscal Year budget projects that 30 percent of the county’s revenue will come from sales tax, as shown in the chart above. (Chart added after initial post.)
The video below is of the Feb. 25 meeting of the Board of Commissioners.
The topics discussed above are in the video in the order that follows.
Tourism and Business Bureau presentation begins at 1:39 in the video.
Discussion of the resolution naming Geddings as the designated officer for the Georgia Department of Revenue is at 18:54 in the video.
Haygood made his presentation on modifications to the county’s alcoholic beverages ordinance at 20:48 in the video.
Discussion of fees for the sports fields begins at 29:20 in the video
Kirouac began his discussion of SPLOST at 38:41 in the video.
Kirouac gave his update on broadband at 40:17 in the video.