Wednesday, May 27, 2020

Oconee County Commissioners Get Look At Pared-Back SPLOST List For November Referendum

***Optimistic Projection Is For Nearly $65 Million In Projects***

Oconee County voters in November will be presented with a $64.6 million wish list of projects to be funded by a Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax if the Board of Commissioners accepts a staff proposal given it last week.

Included on the list is $14.4 million for roads and bridges, $7.5 million for water and sewer projects, $6.9 million for a library and government administrative building, and $6.3 million for county broadband.

The list also includes nearly $9 million for the county’s four cities to use for their own projects.

County Administrator Justin Kirouac told the Board it was necessary to trim back submitted requests for county project, which had come to $78.5 million, to come closer to what the county can reasonably expect to receive from the 1 percent sales tax over six years starting in late 2021.

That $64.6 million projection–to be used in the referendum presented to voters–is $9 million more than the 2015 SPLOST was projected to bring in.

Actual revenue is running at about 80 percent of that figure, and Kirouac told the Board that the county will budget at the 80 percent level as it plans to fund the projects on the 2021 SPLOST list.

The next step, Kirouac told the Board, is to meet with the mayors of the four cities at the Commission’s next meeting on June 2 and then sign Intergovernmental Agreements specifying how the money will be allocated–based on population of the cities--among the five governmental entities.

One option the county is considering for the 2021 SPLOST is borrowing against projected revenue to build more quickly the library and administrative building on property the county purchased on the northeastern edge of Watkinsville.

Bond Sales

Historically, the Board of Commissioners has not borrowed against projected revenue to advance finance projects on the SPLOST list, but Kirouac told me in an email message on May 1 that option is under consideration.

Daniell And Berisko 5/19/2020

The draft language of the Intergovernmental Agreement “gives us the option but doesn't necessarily compel at this time,” Kirouac said.

“The only project that would likely be a candidate would be the Library/Administrative building, which would have payment spread over 2 splosts,” he wrote.

“The method of initial funding would depend on the best rate at the time,” he added.

The Oconee County Board of Education historically has borrowed against projected revenue from its Education Local Option Sales Tax to fund school construction, but the county has spent money in the past only as it accumulated during the SPLOST collection.

Watkinsville Mayor and Council has discussed the Intergovernmental Agreement proposed by the county at recent meetings of that body and expressed concern that the county alone, rather than the county and its cities, be liable for bond payments if the county does decide to sell bonds to advance fund projects.

Animal Services Building

One of the requests removed from the 2021 SPLOST list Kirouac presented to the Board was $250,000 for renovation and an addition to the Animal Service Building, or Animal Shelter, at 1171 Branch Road, off U.S. 441 in the far south of the county.

Instead, the Board at its meeting on May 19 heard a request from Crystal Berisko, Animal Services manager, that it approve a bid from Peak Steel Contractors LLC of Madison for expansion and renovation of the existing facility.

Berisko said the bid price was $738,643, but Kirouac said in an email message on Wednesday that the amount was not final and that the figure presented to the Board for action at its June 2 meeting is still under negotiation.

“This will complete all phases of the project in its entirety,” Berisko told the Board, “giving us a long-term solution for the citizens and animals of Oconee County.”

The county will fund the project through current SPLOST revenue supplemented by just less than $200,000 from the county’s cash reserves, Kirouac told the Board, making it possible to pull the project from the SPLOST 2021 list.

The request for proposals for the project called for renovation of the existing building, construction of an addition, as well as adding on to the existing building.

The proposal produced four bids for Construction Management at Risk Services.

Revenue Projections

Kirouac said making projections of the revenue from the 2021 SPLOST has been complicated by the financial uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Click To Enlarge

“In our best of all possible worlds we’re projecting $64,648,250,” Kirouac said.

To get to that figure, the county looked at the 10-year trend and then factored in a 4 percent decrease for this year, he said.

“But the more likely scenario is you see the 80 percent allocation that we typically budget for a project list,” he told the Board.

Using that project, Kirouac said, the county would receive $44.6 million and the overall SPLOST would generate $51.7 million.

County Attorney Daniel Haygood told me in an email message on April 27 that he doesn’t know of “any specific restriction” on how the county makes its projections.

“On the other hand,” Haygood continued, “at some point it gets to be unreasonable and perhaps a court would rule that it represented some kind of bad faith and disallow an election.”

Project List

The list presented to the Board–and which was received without any objection–includes, in addition to the projects listed above, $3.9 million for Fire Station facilities and equipment and $2.6 million for Law Enforcement equipment.

Included is $3.4 million for park and recreation facilities, $3.9 million for general county facilities, such as HVAC replacement, $750,000 for farmland preservation, and $125,000 for historic preservation.

The $3.4 million for parks and recreation facilities is on top of the $5.5 million in debt payment for Oconee Veterans Park, which was funded through a voter-approved general obligation bond.

The list also includes $625,000 for renovation of the existing Courthouse to accommodate its conversion to a judicial-only facility.

Daniell Announcement

At the front of the meeting on Tuesday, Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell announced that construction of the roundabout in front of the bus and staff entrance to Malcom Bridge Middle school is underway.

“No plans for construction at the parent entrance are finalized at this point,” Daniell said.

“We received excellent feedback from our Town Hall meeting that we had a few weeks ago,” Daniell said.

He said meetings with local homeowners from the area around the school also have been productive.

“We’re excited about their interest to help us get the best solution for that corridor,” he said.

“I hope to announce an in-person Town Hall Meeting sometime after June 12,” Daniell said.

Oconee County Board of Education Chair Tom Odom “has agreed to the use of Malcom Bridge Schools subject to the addition of any COVID-19 restrictions that may occur after June 12,” Daniell said.

“We’re really excited about that coming up,” he added.


The video below is of the May 19 meeting of the Board of Commissioners.

The meeting took place in the Commission Chamber at the Courthouse in Watkinsville and was live streamed. Citizen access to the meeting room was restricted.

Sarah Bell was invited to attend and recorded the video below.

Berisko made her request for approval of the contract for the renovation of the Animal Services Building at 4:50 in the video.

Kirouac discussed the SPLOST list at 9:42 in the video.

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