Tuesday, June 14, 2022

Oconee Town Hall Meeting Provides Answers To Questions On Costco Opening, Truck Traffic Ordinance, Tennis And Pickleball Courts

***Small Number of Questioners***

Costco is on schedule for an opening this fall.

Funding from the current Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) should be sufficient to begin construction of eight new tennis courts at Oconee Veterans Park by Fiscal Year 2025.

The existing tennis courts at Herman C. Michael will be converted to pickleball courts when new tennis courts are opened at Veterans Park.

The suspension of the state fuel tax should not have any impact on planned upgrades to SR 316 and U.S. 441.

All the roads in the county listed as No Through Truck routes are properly signed, and the Sheriff is set to begin enforcement in the next few weeks.

These were some of the updates by Oconee County Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell at a brief Town Hall Meeting at the Civic Center on Tuesday night.

Also as part of that meeting, Planning and Code Enforcement Director Guy Herring outlined the five-year update to the county Comprehensive Plan. A web survey will go live next week as part of that process, Herring said.

In news not coming from the Town Hall meeting, Rebecca Anglin, director of Elections and Registration for Oconee County, reported that 682 of Oconee County’s 29,155 active voters cast a ballot in the first two of five days of early voting for the June 21 runoff.

The Georgia Secretary of State recount of votes in the Democratic Primary for nomination for U.S. House District 10 on May 24 did not change the outcome. Tabitha Johnson-Green and Jessica Allison Fore are the Democratic runoff candidates.

Town Hall Meeting

Daniell began the Town Hall Meeting by announcing that Charter nearly has completed its analysis of households lacking broadband service in the county and is expected to provide the county with that list shortly.

Stevens Addressing (L-R) Thomas
Daniell, Harden, Saxon

The county is subsidizing connections to homes in the county.

Daniell also said the preliminary ground clearing is underway for the new Administrative Building at the intersection of North Main Street (SR 15) and U.S. 441 Bypass on the northern edge of Watkinsville and a groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for 10 a.m. on June 30.

Daniell then turned the session over to Herring, who explained that the county is embarking on the state-mandated five-year update of its Comprehensive Plan and will be seeking citizen input in a variety of ways.

Included is a web survey that will be launched next week seeking responses to both fixed and open-ended questions. Citizens have until Sept. 1 to respond to the 15-minute survey.

The county also will conduct focus groups and hold open house meetings on the plan, Herring said.

The county issued a press release and provided information on its web site on Tuesday about the Comprehensive Plan update.

Questions And Comments

Five different speakers came to the microphone at the Civic Center on Hog Mountain Road to ask questions or make statements, several addressing more than one topic.

Another half dozen citizens were linked to the meeting via Zoom, but none of them asked a question.

Robin Stevens, executive director of the Clarke Oconee Tennis Association, came to the microphone first and said “I really came tonight to thank you.”

“Tennis is a great sport,” she continued. “Oconee County enjoys that sport. And I just want to say I appreciate the past investment you’ve made to the public facility of tennis courts here in the community and the pending one.”

Stevens said “we appreciate having 12 public courts” that are very busy. She also said they are very well maintained by the county Parks and Recreation Department.

“The other thing I want to thank you for,” Steven said, “is that, to date, you’ve not given any of those tennis courts away to another sport. I appreciate that.”

“Some of the surrounding counties have done that,” Stevens said. “And it is perplexing why one would want to grow one sport at an expense of another.”

“Both sports are great,” Stevens said. “Both sports deserve their own facilities. I appreciate that and hope you’ll stay the course on that direction.”

Update On Courts

Stevens said that at least eight tennis courts are part of the master plan for Oconee Veterans Park and asked Daniell for an update on the time line and design.

“Based on our estimate for SPLOST collections,” Daniell said, “we’re thinking FY 25 will be when the engineering starts and hopefully construction thereafter.”

In response to a subsequent question from Dan Magee, Daniell said the goal is to take the SPLOST funds and add the tennis courts that are shown in the master plan.

The exiting tennis courts at Herman C. Michael will become pickleball courts, Daniell said.

“That way tennis doesn’t lose anything,” Daniell said. “They actually gain some courts. And then pickleball gains significantly as well.”

Districts And Nonpartisan Elections

Former State Rep. Chuck Williams came next to the microphone and told the Commissioners that he did not want the county to switch to districts from at-large election of county commissioners.


Both local political parties put the issue on the ballot in the May 24 primary, and responses were split on the non-binding question.

Williams said “I really fear the amount of infighting” districts would produce.

“If we go to that without being forced to go that,” Williams said, “we’re going to give up a lot of what we enjoy now as far as the relationship between the citizens and you as the governing body of the county.”

Williams said he would change his mind if, in the future, people could not get elected “to represent all of the county’s interests.”

Williams said he also was opposed to nonpartisan elections, covered by another question on the May 24 ballot. It also produced a split response.

“From a fiscal standpoint,” Williams said, “from a spending standpoint, it tells me a lot when somebody that’s running for an office such as yours declares either as a Republican or Democrat.”

Neither Daniell nor Mark Thomas, Amrey Harden, or Mark Saxon responded to Williams. Commissioner Chuck Horton was not present at the Town Hall meeting.

Other Questions By Magee

In addition to asking about pickleball and tennis courts, Magee wanted to know the status of rails to trails discussions, about the planned new park at the Land Application Site on Rocky Branch Road, and about plans for a new entrance to Oconee Veterans Park.


Daniell said he had nothing new to report on Rails to Trails at this time, “though it’s still on our strategic plan. And it something everybody would like to see happen. But there’s no movement at this point.”

He said that it will be 18 months to two years before it will be possible to decommission the Land Application Site.

At that point, he said, discussion can begin about what facilities are included in the new park.

He said that a new entrance to Oconee Veterans Park will be incorporated into plans for Parkside, the massive residential development that will take place on the east side of the park.

“Once we get the new entrance into Parkside,” Daniell said, “we can look at some different traffic control along 53 to try to help that.” Hog Mountain Road is SR 53.

Jeff Hood At Microphone

Jeff Hood asked a series of questions in two separate visits to the microphone.


He said he was concerned that the suspension of the fuel tax to address the high costs of gasoline could adversely affect road projects in the county.

“We’ve not gotten any indication from GDOT on any slowdown on the projects we have underway at this point,” Daniell said. Much of the funding for these projects is federal and “is locked in,” he added.

Hood also wanted to know if inflation would adversely affect tax property tax collection.

Daniell said earlier in the meeting the county was committed to reducing the millage rate in the county to offset growth in property assessments due to market forces and only tax “new growth” in property assessments resulting from changed use of property.

He told Hood he did not think inflation would affect tax collection.

Second Visit

Hood also asked about the opening date for Costco and about county regulation of campaign signs.

“As far as I know, the fall opening is still on schedule,” Daniell said of Costco, which is building a store in Epps Bridge Centre II on the Oconee Connector.

“No signs are allowed in the right of way,” Daniell said. On a county road, that is 40 feet from the center line, he said. On a state road, that is 50 feet from the centerline, he added.

“As far as I know, all of the local candidates are abiding by what we’ve asked them to do,” he said. “We do have some statewide campaigns that are definitely abusing use of the right of way.”

Daniell said citizens should notify the county of problems.


Sharon Thelen, president of the Dials Mill Plantation Property Owners Association, asked Daniell if he had any information on when a public information open house would be held for the Dials Mill Road interchange.


Daniell said he had not heard anything new about the Dials Mill Road open house “but it should be coming up very shortly.”

Thelen also asked if MACORTS, the federal metropolitan planning organization that has authority over parts of Oconee County, can vote down a project proposed the Georgia Department of Transportation.

Daniell, who sits on the MACORTS Policy Committee, said MACORTS “takes a vote, and it can turn stuff down, if they felt it was necessary.”

“I would say that I would find it highly unlikely that the MACORTS committee would override GDOT,” Daniell said.

“There is enough communication going on there, so I think that would be a long shot to get that group to not follow the recommendations,” he added.

Thelen also asked for an update on the county’s Truck Traffic Ordinance, and Daniell told her signage is now in place and enforcement will start in the next week or two.

Early Voting

Board of Elections and Registration Director Anglin reported that 320 Oconee County voters cast a ballot in early voting on Monday, and 362 voted on Tuesday.

Of the 682 votes cast so far, 59 are with the Democratic ballot, and 623 are with the Republican ballot.

The Republican ballot contains only two races, for Post 3 on the Oconee County Board of Education, and for the party nomination in the U.S. District 10 Congressional race.

The Democratic ballot does not include any local races, but it contains contests for the U.S. District 10 party nominee and for four state-wide races.

The Oconee County Democrats are holding a forum for two of the statewide races and for the U.S. District 10 race at 6:30 p.m. on Thursday night.

The Republican voting bill passed by the General Assembly in 2021 moved the runoff election from July to June and shortened the early voting period.

Early voting will continue from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. through Friday of this week at the Elections and Registration Office, 10 Court Street, across from the Courthouse in Watkinsville.


Phyllis Hatcher had asked for a recount from the May 24 Democratic Primary election. She fell 137 votes behind Jessica Fore for the second-place spot.

Tabatha Johnson-Green was the top vote getter.

The data on the Secretary of State web site at the end of the day on Tuesday show Fore gaining four votes and Hatcher losing two in the recount of the 18 counties in the District.

The result is a 143 vote gap between the two candidates in favor of Fore.

The vote figure in Oconee County were unchanged in the recount.

Fore gained five votes in Butts County and lost one vote in Newton County.

Hatcher gained three votes in Butts County, lost four in Clarke County, lost one in Elbert County, gained two in Henry County, and lost two in Newton County.


The video below of the Town Hall Meeting was recorded from Zoom.

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