Two citizens used the opportunity of a Budget Hearing of the Oconee County Board of Commissioners last week to raise concerns that have budget implications but that were not directed as specifics of the budget presented.
County Finance Director provided the commissioners and the public the final details of the $53.3 million budget which includes no new positions, no salary raises for existing employees, and increased spending on health insurance benefits.
The millage rate is to remain stable, and the budget does not draw any revenue from the county’s Fund Balance, or savings account, which is expected to be $11.2 million at the end of June, the end of the current Fiscal Year.
Vicki Soutar, 1091 Castle Drive, off Simonton Bridge Road, and chair of UOWN Oconeewaters, asked for additional funding for protection of the area streams, focusing in particular on contamination from septic tanks.
Justin Conrad, 1331 Lane Creek Drive, came to talk about the lack of Internet service in the Lane Creek neighborhood north of New High Shoals in the west of the county and asked the county to make investment in Internet infrastructure a high priority.
Citizens will have another chance to state their concerns to the Board of Commissioners at a Town Hall Meeting scheduled to start at 7 p.m. tonight at Oconee Veterans Park, 3500 Hog Mountain Road.
The featured topic is design of improvements for Malcom Bridge Road.
Geddings’ budget presentation was a repeat of one given to the Commission last month.
The largest part of the General Fund spending in the proposed Fiscal year 2021 budget is for Law Enforcement, the jail, and E911 operation. Those elements take up 28 percent of the total budget, up 1 percent from the year earlier.
Public Works is at 14 percent of the budget, the same as last year, and Parks and Recreation is at 10 percent of the budget, down from 11 percent in the current Fiscal Year.
The Board of Commissioners will be asked to adopt the budget at its meeting on June 30.
“The fecal bacterial levels are so high as to place most major streams in our county on the EPD list of impaired streams for not meeting the standards for fishing, much less swimming,” Soutar said at the start of her comments. EPD is the state Environmental Protection Division.
Soutar said that failing septic tanks are a likely contributor to the fecal coliform contamination of the streams.
Soutar asked for increased funding to create a searchable database of septic tanks records.
“There are no maps to indicate where septics near water sources are located,” she said.
She also asked for increased monitoring of streams and for educational initiatives to “address storm water runoff and septic maintenance.”
Oconeewaters is a chapter of the Upper Oconee Watershed Network, devoted to stream protection in the region.
Conrad said he was representing 118 homes in the Lane Creek neighborhood “that unfortunately do not have access to high speed Internet.” A group of neighbors had joined him in the Commission Chamber.
“My family and I, we moved here about a year ago from North Carolina,” he said. “We were very excited to move into the neighborhood. Had we known that this issue existed, we probably would not have made the same decision.”
Conrad said he discovered he could not work from home as he had in the past. His wife has a small online business that has lost revenue. His security company would not transfer his service “because the Internet was so unreliable and unworkable.”
But he said other neighbors have it worse.
Teachers have not been able to do their work from home during the COVID-19 shutdown.
“The students in the neighborhood have faced incredible difficulty completing assignments, engaging in these sort of online activities,” he said, and parents and students have spent four to six hours sitting in school parking lots to complete assignments.
Conrad said he knew the county was exploring the construction of an Internet loop and “We’re just here tonight to urge you continue on that path if that is in fact the path the county is pursuing and to encourage you to make it as high a priority as possible.”
“It is a high priority,” Commission Chair John Daniell said. “We’re with you on trying to get it fixed.”
The video below is of the Board of Commissioners Budget Hearing on June 16, 2020.
Geddings made his budget presentation beginning at 2:01 in the video.
Soutar spoke at 13:27.
Conrad spoke at 17:45.
Sarah Bell attended the meeting and recorded the video.