Turnout for the Nov. 2 referendum on the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax continues to be light with only five days of early voting remaining.
After the 11th day of early voting on Saturday, only 491 of the county’s 32,066 voters–or 1.5 percent--have participated in in-person voting at the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road west of Butler’s Crossing.
After that same number of days of early voting running up to the March 16 Education Location Option Sales Tax (ELOST) referendum, 734 persons had cast a ballot in person, or 2.2 percent of the 31,965 voters registered at that time.
In March, most of the votes were in early voting, with only 635 (33.0 percent) of the 1,924 votes tallied in the ELOST referendum cast on election day itself.
The early voting for the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (T-SPLOST) referendum that is taking place is being driven by turnout in Watkinsville for the Mayor and Council races.
Watkinsville voters make up only 7.0 percent of the 32,066 registered in the county, but they have contributed 27.3 percent of the in-person votes cast in early voting so far.
The Watkinsville Mayor and Council races were featured in a virtual Meet and Greet Thursday evening organized by the Oconee County Democratic Party for the nonpartisan races on Nov. 2 in Bogart, North High Shoals, and Watkinsville.
Meet And Greet
The Democratic Party had extended invitations to all Mayors and Council Members of the four cities in the county as well as to those running for offices in the cities.
Both Watkinsville mayoral candidates Rebecca Billings and incumbent Brian Brodrick participated in the session, as did Chuck Garrett, who is running unopposed for Council Post 1.
Jenny Bridges, running for re-election in Bogart, joined the session, as did Meagan Cundiff and Eric Wright, seeking Post 5 and Post 3 respectively on Council in North High Shoals.
Violet Dawe, who was the only candidate to qualify in the special election to fill the vacant seat for Mayor in North High Shoals, also spoke and introduced herself.
Bishop does not have any races on the ballot, as only one candidate qualified for the Mayor and four Council seats.
None of those individuals chose to participate in the Meet and Greet.
Each of those who joined the session organized by the Democratic Party was given five minutes to use as she or he chose.
Audience members could submit questions in the chat or send them directly to the candidates, but no give-and-take with the candidates was incorporated into the format.
Billings said she “could potentially be the first female Mayor of Watkinsville and that gets me very excited.” She said she wants to focus on traffic issues, the city’s parks, “and making sure we’re managing our funds well.”
Brodrick said the county has a great school system that serves its young people but “we have to build a community that’s wonderful enough that they want to come back and live here.” He said his platform is built around “best spaces, best places, best people.”
Garrett told the participants he has heard from citizens about their concerns about traffic. “We have a great community here,” he said. “We have a great opportunity to manage our community, manage our growth.”
Bridges from Bogart said “I am a person who loves my town.” She said she wants to focus on sidewalks as a way of providing connections among members of the Bogart community. “I would love to see high speed Internet for our constituents,” she added.
Cundiff said she wants to join North High Shoals Town Council “to be more of a catalyst for positive change in our community.” She said she wants to increase funding for the Sheriff’s patrols in North High Shoals and she also wants to try to reduce speeding in the community and link to the city park via sidewalks.
Wright said North High Shoals “is a town we love and we can’t see ourselves leaving.” He said he decided to qualify “because I just felt like it was time to step up and really be involved in the community.” He said he wants to focus on the history of High Shoals.
Dawe said in her time on the North High Shoals Council before assuming the position of Mayor she worked on a revision of the charter and on getting the city listed on the National Historic Register. “I want to bring the subdivisions and the center of town together,” she added.
Carolyn Maultsby and Connie Massey, the incumbent, are seeking election to Post 2 on Council in Watkinsville.
Pam Davis, who is organizing the Meet and Greet, said prior to the meeting that Maultsby has declined to participate. Massey did not respond to requests that she join the session, she said.
Jared Strickland, also seeking Post 5 in North High Shoals, had agreed to participate in the Meet and Greet, according to Davis, but he did not join the session on Thursday night.
Hilda Kurtz, Post 4 incumbent in North High Shoals, will be on the ballot unopposed. Davis said she indicated she would not be able to participate because she would be out of town.
In Bogart, Council seats are all at-large, and Bridges, David Kilpatrick and Greg Maddox are seeking the two seats up for election. The top voter getters will assume the seats, now held by Bridges and Kilpatrick.
Davis had said that Maddox had indicated he would join the Meet and Greet, but he was not online on Thursday.
Kilpatrick had declined, Davis said, because he was going to be out of town.
Early Voting Details
Early voting started on Oct. 12 and included the first Saturday voting day on Oct. 16.
The second and final day of Saturday voting was Saturday.
Early voting continues from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Civic Center, 2661 Hog Mountain Road, west of Butler’s Crossing, for the T-SPLOST referendum and for the races in North High Shoals and Watkinsville.
Bogart, which is partially in Clarke County, handles its own elections, and early voting for the city race continues from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. this week at the Historic Agricultural Center, for Oconee County and Clarke County residents who live inside the city.
Early voting on the T-SPLOST referendum for the Bogart voters who live in Oconee County is at the Civic Center.
Early Voting Numbers
In addition to the 491 ballots cast at the Civic Center, 37 voters have returned an absentee ballot to the Office of Elections and Registration at 10 Court Street opposite the Courthouse in Watkinsville.
That office had issued 94 absentee ballots as of Saturday.
Voters in North High Shoals had cast 11 ballots as of the end of the day on Saturday, and voters in Bogart had cast 23.
North High Shoals has 484 registered voters, and Bogart has 953, with 838 of those in Oconee County.
Watkinsville has 2,238 registered voters.
By the end of early voting on March 12 for the March 16 ELOST referendum, the total number of persons participating in early voting was 1,254, and another 28 had returned an absentee ballot, for 4.0 percent of the total eligible voters.
Final turnout at the end of the March 16 election was 1,925 votes, or 6.3 percent of the active 30,516 active voters. The referendum was approved by 83.6 percent of the voters.
Watkinsville held a special election in June after then Mayor Bob Smith stepped down.
Early voting was spread across 14 days, and 296 ultimately voted in-person early, and seven voted with absentee ballots, or 14.1 percent of the 2,145 registered voters in the city.
Final turnout for the June 15 special election was 392 votes, or 18.3 percent of the registered voters, with only 89 (22.7 percent) of the total votes cast on election day.
Voters in the unincorporated parts of the county as well as in the four cities are being asked to approve an increase in the sales tax from 7 to 8 percent, with the new revenue to be used for transportation projects.
The tax, if approved, will run for five years or until $56 million is raised.
The ballot language does not list specific projects to be funded by the tax, but county officials have said the money if approved will be used to reduce property taxes by 1 mill.
This will be possible because transportation projects currently being funded by property tax will be funded by the new sales tax.
Other uses of the sales tax will be for intersection improvements, multi-use paths, and roadway paving.
The current county millage rate is 6.65 for unincorporated areas in the county and 7.59 for the incorporated areas of the county.
Clarke County already has a Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax in place, and its total tax is 8 percent. The sales tax in Barrow County is 7 percent.
The Oconee County Republican Party is holding a candidate forum on Monday (Oct. 25) for all 13 of the Republican candidates seeking to replace Jody Hice as 10th District representative in the U.S. Congress.
The in-person event is to be held at Hadden Estates, 1112 Cliff Dawson Road, north of Butler’s Crossing.
The doors will open at 5:45, and the forum will begin at 6:30.
WGAU radio news director Tim Bryant will moderate the event, which will be live streamed on WGAU.
The video below is recorded from Democratic Party Meet and Greet on Zoom.
Billings began speaking at 3:30 in the video.
Brodrick spoke at 7:19 in the video.
Garrett is at 12:27 in the video.
Bridges began her comments at 17:33.
Cundiff spoke at 23:20 in the video.
Wright started his comments at 27:32.
Dawe spoke at 31:41.