Monday, January 10, 2022

Oconee Commissioners Weigh In On Need For Reform Of Annexation Laws In State

***Citizen Speaks Again About SR 316 Transformation***

Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell told his colleagues last week that Oconee County has had few problems involving annexation.

Daniell said he nonetheless recommended that the Board ask the Georgia General Assembly in its session that officially started Monday to reform its dispute resolution procedures for annexation.

The Board responded with a unanimous vote to ask the legislature to pass legislation that balances “the oftentimes conflicting interests among counties, cities, incorporated and unincorporated citizens, and developers seeking different land uses through annexation.”

The most recent annexation in the county was in Bishop, where the Council circumvented the county’s zoning review process in annexing and rezoning land at the request of Dollar General, which is opening a store there.

The county did not contest the annexation, but the legislative changes the Board of Commissioners endorsed would clarify the procedures the county would follow to contest an annexation in the future.

In other action at the meeting on Tuesday, Sharon Thelen, president of the Dials Mill Plantation Property Owners Association, raised concerns about the types of development likely to occur if a full interchange for SR 316 is built at Dials Mill Road.

The county also agreed to spend $249,515 for a new air truck for Station 1.

Study Committee

The Georgia House of Representatives created a House Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood during the 2021 General Session to study annexation dispute resolution and city incorporation procedures.

Screen Shot Of Thelen Before Commission 1/4/2022

The General Assembly last revised the annexation chapter of the Official Code of Georgia in 2015 and has not amended or reviewed the annexation arbitration process since its enactment in 2007, according to the Study Committee final report.

Rep. Victor Anderson, R–Cornelia, chaired the committee. Neither of Oconee County’s representatives, Houston Gaines or Marcus Wiedower, was on five-member committee.

The committee held five public meetings, four at the Capitol complex in Atlanta and one in Cherokee County.

No one from Oconee County participated, though Rusty Haygood, Deputy Commissioner of the Georgia Department of Community Affairs, played a key role in Committee discussions, according to the Committee report.

Haygood is the former economic development director of Oconee County. Pat Graham, Chair of the Barrow County Board of Commissioners, also attended, according to the Committee report.

The Committee is recommending that the Department of Community Affairs play a stronger role in arbitration of disputes between counties and cities over annexation and sets forth a series of procedures for handling the disputes.

The Association County Commissioners of Georgia asked counties interested in reforming Georgia’s annexation dispute resolution and arbitration process to adopt a resolution supporting the recommendations of the House Study Committee on Annexation and Cityhood.

Oconee Incorporated and Unincorporated Areas

Oconee County has only four incorporated areas, Bishop, Bogart, North High Shoals, and Watkinsville.

Oconee County consists of 186 square miles, with only about 9 square miles of that incorporated.

Bishop, prior to its annexation last year, was 0.8 square miles.

Bogart is 2.5 square miles, with a small part of that in Clarke County.

North High Shoals also is 2.5 square miles.

Watkinsville is 3.3 square miles.

The county is the only provider of water and sewer services in the county, and only Watkinsville has its own police force.

The decision by Bishop last April to annex just less than 30 acres (0.05 square miles) so the developer working with Dollar General did not have to go through the county zoning review process was an unusual example of disagreement in the county over zoning, and annexation was not central to the disagreement.

The resolution to the General Assembly passed by the Board of Commissioners said that “State law must be changed to respect all parties and persons impacted by Georgia's continued population growth.”

Dials Mill Road Interchange

Dials Mill Plantation Property Owners Association President Thelen said that “several commissioners have been out to see the survey work and speak with our homeowners, and we appreciate your interest.”

Thelen has spoken to the Commission in the past, expressing concern about the impact of a full interchange of Dials Mill Road and SR 316 will have on her neighborhood.

The Georgia Department of Transportation has announced it will meet with public officials and citizens this spring to discuss its plans for a full interchange at Dials Mill Road and flyovers at Dials Mill Extension and McNutt Creek Road.

“There are a lot of competing concerns as Oconee County continues to grow,” Thelen said. “How much growth, how fast, what types of growth and how to pay for everything are all issues that have to be considered as the county grows.”

Thelen also noted that “expanding the roads also leads to new growth,” and she asked that Commission to keep that in mind as it looked at the SR 316 interchange projects.

Rather than a full interchange at Dials Mill Road, Thelen said, “from a development standpoint, McNutt Creek Road seems like the better location because it leads into Bogart and the (Gateway) Technology Park, and it could create a cluster of economic activity with Mars Hill Road and Highway 78.”

“There is no significant commercial activity close to Dials Mill Road,” she said.

Fire Truck Purchase

The Commission meeting last week was a brief one.

Air Truck From Specification Sheet

The commissioners agreed to spend $249,515 for an “air truck” for Fire Station 1, on the north of Watkinsville just off the U.S. 441 bypass. The truck will have four self-contained breathing air packs that firefighters wear.

Fire Chief Bruce Thaxton told the Board that it had agreed as part of the current Fiscal Year 2022 Budget to purchase the truck and that Southeast Apparatus in Corbin, Ky., had submitted the bid judged by a committee as best fitting the county’s specifications.

Money for the truck will come from the 2021 Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax as well as a $100,000 donation from the nearby Presbyterian Village Athens for the vehicle, Commission Chair John Daniell said.

Qualifying Fees

The Commission also set fees for the March qualifying for the Board of Commissioners and for the Board of Education elections.

Following state law, the Board of Commission fee will be 3 percent of the base salary of $25,178, or $755.36, and the Board of Education fee will be 3 percent of the base salary of $1,800, or $54.

Commission Post 2, currently held by Chuck Horton, and Post 3, currently held by Amrey Harden, are up for election.

Harden announced on Friday that he plans to run for re-election, but Horton has not yet made an announcement.

Post 2 on the Board of Education, held by Amy Parrish, and Post 3, held by Wayne Bagley, are up for election.

Neither has declared an intention regarding the May primaries.


The video below is the one recorded by the county and placed on its YouTube channel.

The meeting actually doesn’t begin until 3:45 in the video.

Thelen came to the podium at 5:24 in the video.

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