Oconee County Commissioners took another step on Tuesday to put a referendum for a new 1 percent Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax on the ballot in November.
Commissioners tentatively decided to ask the Board of Elections and Registration at its regular meeting next week to vote to officially respond to the request from the commissioners to put the referendum for the new sales tax on the Nov. 2 ballot.
The Board of Elections and Registration, meeting in a called session on Thursday, also issued a call for a special election on that date to fill the position of mayor in the Town of North High Shoals.
Commissioners on Tuesday also moved forward with plans for issuance of $12.5 million in general obligation bonds for construction of the new administrative building on U.S. 441 and North Main Street on the north side of Watkinsville.
The county will be taking advantage of a new bond rating upgrade from Aa2 to Aa1 by Moody’s Investors Service.
Elections Board Meeting
The Board of Elections and Registration, in its brief meeting on Thursday, was responding to a request from New High Shoals to hold a special election to replace Toby Bradberry, who died on July 11.
Bradberry had been elected mayor in 2016 and was re-elected without opposition in 2020. The special election will be to fill out Bradberry’s four-year term.
Qualification will be on Aug. 16 to 18 at the Board of Elections and Registration office, 10 Court Street, opposite the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
Advance voting with be Oct. 12 through Oct. 29, with Saturday voting on Oct. 16 and Oct. 23, at the Oconee County Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing.
Voting on election day will be at Grace Fellowship Church, 1120 Malcom Bridge Road.
Registration for the Nov. 2 election is open through Oct. 4.
Oconee County Commission Chair John Daniell told his fellow commissioners at the meeting on Tuesday that he had met with the mayors of the four cities on July 1, as planned, and each had agreed to participate in the transportation tax.
Daniell repeated what he had told the commissioners at their June 29 meeting regarding allocation of revenue from the proposed tax.
While the cap on the tax would be $56 million, the county’s share would be just more than $48 million, once the city amounts are distributed.
Daniell said the county would budget based on collection of only about 79 percent of the $48.
That means the county is expecting to receive about $38 million as its share of the income, rather than $48 million.
Based on the expected $38 million, $10.5 million (27.7 percent) would be allocated to cover transportation services currently paid out of the general fund. Property taxes are expected to be reduced as a result.
The referendum also would allocate $3 million to Multi-Use Paths, $4 million to Safety/Intersections, and $20.5 million to Paving.
The Commissioners did not take an formal action on Tuesday on the referendum.
Daniell said the item will be on the agenda on Aug. 3 and then can go to the Board of Elections and Registration for its Aug. 4 meeting.
The tax, if approved, would go into effect in April of 2022 and would run for five years or until it reached the cap.
Historically, Oconee County has not sold bonds to advance fund projects covered by its Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax.
The language of the referendum approved by voters last November, however, anticipated bond sales for construction of the proposed government building just north of Watkinsville’s city limits.
“Right now is a excellent time to go to the bond market,” Justin Kirouac, county administrator, told the Board.
The recommendation is to sell $12.5 million in bonds to be covered by the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax approved by voters in November.
The bonds will be set up so no payments will be necessary before the county starts collecting taxes from that referendum on Oct. 1, Kirouac explained in an email message on Wednesday.
Payments will extend to a future 2027 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax, he said.
Kirouac told the Board on Tuesday that the county’s upgraded bond rating to Aa1 was the result of going through the process of review for the sale of bonds for the administrative building.
“We are the smallest county both by (tax) digest, population and area in the state to receive that high of a rating,” Kirouac said.
Kirouac told the Board that the bonds already have been validated.
The Board also did not take any formal action on the bond sales but was told the bond sales will be on the agenda for action next week.
The Board of Commissioners meeting was a brief one, lasting only a little more than 20 minutes.
At the beginning, Daniell told the commissioners that the Georgia Department of Transportation finally had sent the expected letter turning Mars Hill Road back to the county.
“We're responsible for the maintenance on it now,” he said.
The first embedded video below is from the county’s live-streaming of the Commission meeting.
Daniell made his comment on the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax at 5:46 in the video.
Discussion of the bond issue is at 8:03 in the video.
This second video is from the Board of Elections and Registration meeting of Thursday. The video also is recorded from the live-streaming of the session.
The T-splost is needed, but less than 10% to multiuse paths (which I assume includes sidewalks) is very disappointing. I think the amount for non-motorized transportation in Athens-Clarke was nearly 50% based on citizen input. If we want to maintain Oconee's reputation for quality of life, the county needs to move toward recognizing that you cannot pave your way out of traffic congestion. This is a small county. The availability of paths would allow people to move by walking or biking especially to parks, restaurants, and shopping areas.
Label it as a roundabout tax.
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