Oconee County voters are likely to be asked to approve a new 1 percent sales tax later this year to help the county meet its public works needs, Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell said in the State of the County address.
Daniell said last week that no decision has been made on when the referendum will be on the ballot, but he said that he expects to have the issue on the agenda of a Commission meeting in May or June.
The 2021 election calendar issued by the Secretary of State would allow only one possibility this year for a vote on the sales tax after that date. That would be on Nov. 2.
Transportation dominated Daniell’s comments in his nearly 45-minute-long presentation, sponsored by the Oconee Chamber of Commerce and held at the Civic Center.
The county is expecting to receive $7.8 million in federal funds for pandemic relief, Daniell said, and he hopes that some of that money can go toward infrastructure projects that would include roads but also water and sewer projects and broadband.
Even without the federal money, Daniell said, the county is investing heavily in a government-corporate partnership to provide broadband services to the county.
“Our goal is for the entire county to have broadband service in three years,” Daniell said.
If voters approve a 1 percent Transportation Local Option Sales Tax, the county’s total sales tax would increase from 7 percent to 8 percent.
The county already collects a Local Option Sales Tax and a Special Purpose Local Options Sales Tax. And the Board of Education collects a Education Location Option Sales Tax.
Each of these is 1 percent, and the state collects a 4 percent sales tax.
Athens-Clarke County voters approved a 1 percent Transportation Local Option Sales Tax in November of 2017, so approval of such a tax in Oconee County would equalize the sales taxes in the two counties.
Each of these local sales taxes except the Local Option Sales Tax is approved by voters for a set length of time and designated for listed capital projects.
Voters approved a renewal of the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in November and of the Education Local Option Sales Tax in a special election in March.
Oconee County has never had a sales tax devoted to transportation.
“You'll be hearing a lot more about that over the next few months,” Daniell said at the State of the County meeting on March 31. “It looks like we will be coming to the citizens asking for a 1 percent sales tax.”
Reason For Tax
The money would be used to “help us do some of these major intersection improvements that we're talking about and give our paving program a real shot in the arm,” Daniell said at the Civic Center address.
“Right now we're not paving enough to keep up with what we need to do to get to our true life-cycle management of our roads,” he said.
“We’re going to focus on getting that straightened out,” he added.
In an email exchange last week Daniell said “No decision is made” on the referendum.
“We will be investigating the TSPLOST and will present the option for the full BOC consideration,” he wrote.
He said he expected the issue to be before the full Board of Commissioners in May or June.
Long List Of Projects
Daniell had preceded his comments on the tax referendum at the March 31 State of the County address by a discussion of a long list of road projects underway or planned for the county.
The list was a repeat of what Daniell had said at the Town Hall meeting, also held at the Civic Center, on March 24.
Included were roundabouts at the intersection of Hog Mountain Road (SR 53) and Rocky Branch Road/Snows Mill Road and at the intersection of Hog Mountain Road and Malcom Bridge Road/Ray’s Church Road.
Daniell went over the list of interchanges planned as part of the transformation of SR 316, where construction is scheduled to begin in 2024.
“You’ll see turf moving soon” on the widening of Experiment Station Road from Butler’s Crossing to the U.S. 441 Bypass, Daniell said.
Daniell said the county has received a $750,000 grant from the state Department of Community Affairs for expansion of the Senior Center in Oconee Veterans Park and that bidding is underway for that construction.
Daniell said the county was able to transfer $101,575 in funds from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act to Oconee County Schools for COVID-19 expenses.
The county also provided $20,000 to Area Churches Together Serving and that same amount to the Oconee Area Resource Council for the provision of emergency services during the pandemic, Daniell said.
Daniell said the county will continue to implement the master plan for the county’s parks and recreation program, including adding tennis courts and entrance and exit improvements at Oconee Veterans Park.
The county will move forward with expansion of its Calls Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant, Daniell said, and that will require discharge into the Middle Oconee River.
The county is looking at using gray water to irrigate at the county’s parks and into development of a composting capability at the treatment plant.
“So depending on the cost of all that,” Daniell said, “some of this may be phased in.”
Daniel said the county entered into an agreement last year with Smart City Capital, Progressive Communication, and Nokia&Infinity for development of broadband in the county.
|Daniell With Roundabout|
The goal is to provide the infrastructure for the county for education, health care, and teleworking, Daniell said.
Daniell said the intent of providing broadband service to the entire county in three years is “very aggressive.”
“Our goal is to have Oconee County be the most connected community in the area and also a model for how to bridge the rural digital divide,” Daniell said. “We plan to be the flagship for the state on how to operate.”
Daniell said that the county expects to receive $7.8 million in federal relief money designated for cities and counties, and that the money will come with restrictions.
“Initial indications show that possibly infrastructure, such as roads, water projects, and broadband would qualify,” he said.
“That's really going to help us move forward with the treatment plant and broadband expansion in our community,” he said.
Diane Baggett, Communication manager for Oconee County, recorded the State of the County address. A copy of that video is below.
Daniell began his comments on Transportation issues, leading into the discussion of the Transportation Local Option Sales Tax, at 17:18 in the video.
Comments on broadband in the county are at 15:15 in the video.