Oconee County received just less than $1.1 million in Local Option Sales Tax in December, the first time the monthly collection has exceeded the $1 million mark.
The increase in collections, attributed to the November opening of Costco, played a role at the Board of Commissioners meeting on Tuesday night as the Board gave tentative approval to Fiscal Year 2023 Mid-Year Budget Amendments for $1.8 million.
The amendments add $100,000 for Capitol Improvements at Heritage Park, which Parks and Recreation Department Director Lisa Davol said will go toward park improvements for horse, bike, and trail bike users.
The amendments also include $222,775 to retire the debt on the bonds the county issued to entice Costco to locate to Epps Bridge Center.
The amendments are balanced, with $1,821,480 in expenditures offset by that same amount of revenue.
Included in the revenue category is $722,780 from the Georgia Department of Insurance Premium Tax and $628,800 in interest revenue.
It also includes $155,000 in Local Option Sales Tax (LOST) Revenue.
In other action on Tuesday, the Board instructed Guy Herring, Director of Planning and Code Enforcement, to prepare revised procedures, mandated by new state legislation, for handling applications for variances to the county's zoning laws.
Sales Tax Collections
The county on Tuesday received an allocation of $1,081,523 in LOST revenue, up from $897,646 in December and up from $857,351 in January of last year.
|Braswell Before Board 1/31/2023|
The Department of Revenue distributes collections on a one-month delay, so the allocation received on Tuesday, the last day of January, was for December of 2022.
Collections vary quite a bit month-to-month, so the more meaningful comparison are with the same month a year ago.
The difference between the January 2022 and January 2023 distributions (December 2021 to December 2022) was $224,172.
The December 2022 distribution was up $127,762 from the December 2021 distribution (for Novembers), and the difference between the November 2022 distribution and the November 2021 distribution was $149,329 (for October).
The county actually collected $1,097,782 from LOST in December of 2022.
Collections are higher than distributions because of administrative fees and other adjustments.
Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) revenue also was up with the Tuesday distribution , but it had exceeded $1 million already with December distributions. Food is exempt from LOST but not SPLOST.
Braswell said that the Insurance Premium Taxes, collected by the state and then distributed to the county, already have been received for the fiscal year so “so we can confirm that those were collected in excess of budget.”
The interest revenue and Prisoner Housing Fees for the county jail are projections, she said. That amount for prisoner housing is $244,360.
In the case of the LOST funds, she said “looking specifically at Costo revenue, we anticipate an increase by $155,000 over what was originally budgeted.”
The county has received grants, including from the American Rescue Plan, of $70,540, and those monies are in hand, she said.
SPLOST revenues are budgeted separately and were not included in the Budget Amendments that Braswell presented to the Board on Tuesday night.
Braswell presented the Board with a long list of expenditures, most of which were relatively small.
Included was $29,500 associated with ongoing expenses for the completed Mars Hill Road widening and $70,000 for work on the planned roundabouts on Hog Mountain Road in the west of the county.
The Planning and Code Enforcement Department will receive $169,500 for Planning Review and for Building Inspection services.
The largest amount of spending on Braswell's list–$551,775--was set aside to cover project inflationary increases for the county.
The second largest item was the $222,775 for Costco debt payments.
In August of 2021 the county agreed to issue $16 million in bonds to finance an incentive package to bring Costco to the county.
The county said it would pay the costs of retiring the bonds from sales tax revenue the wholesaler would generate.
Parks and Recreation
Braswell identified the $100,000 allocation to the Parks and Recreation Department as for Heritage Park Improvements.
At its Jan. 17 meeting, the Recreational Advisory Committee recommended to the Board of Commissioners that it find funding for short-term projects requested by the county’s horse community.
Included are improvements to the existing covered arena and the addition of a warm-up area.
On Wednesday, Davol said via email that “The specifics for the funds has not been determined at this point, nor have the funds been released.”
“It will go toward park improvements, that can include horse, bike and trail bike improvements as well as other general park improvements,” she added.
The Board of Commissioners put Braswell’s Mid-Year Budget Amendments on the consent agenda for the meeting on Feb. 7, meaning they will be approved without further discussion unless one of the commissioners asked that they be pulled off that agenda for further discussion.
At the beginning of the meeting on Tuesday, Board Chair John Daniell announced that the next Town Hall Meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. on March 21 at the Oconee County Civic Center, will focus on the master plans for the county’s parks.
Daniell confirmed on Wednesday via email that the Town Hall meeting also will seek citizen response to a proposed set of multi-use trails in the county.
Planning and Code Enforcement Director Herring told the Board at the meeting on Tuesday that the Georgia General Assembly passed House Bill 1405 as a revision to the State Zoning Procedures Law.
The provisions of the law that impact Oconee County primarily concern administrative approval authority as established in the county’s Unified Development Code, he said.
In the past, Herring said he could review and make administrative decisions on minor variances to the UDC, but the new law defines these as “quasi-judicial” decisions that require a public hearing.
|Herring Before Board 1/31/2023|
Herring offered several options for how to respond to the law. The Board instructed him to come back with proposed changes to the Unified Development Code that would bring these formerly administrative variances before the Board for a final decision.
Herring said there were only nine of these administrative variances in 2022, but since the law requires a full hearing, with advertising, the time required to get the variance will be about two months, rather than a couple of weeks as is the case at present.
The law, passed in April of 2022, became effective July 1, 2022, with a grace period until July 1, 2023.
Oconee County Representatives Marcus Wiedower and Houston Gaines voted in favor of HB 1405, as did Sen. Bill Cowsert, who represents Oconee County in the Senate.
Also at the meeting on Tuesday, the Board voted to award a contract of $305,000 to Kimely-Horn, planning and design engineering consultants with offices in Atlanta, to develop a model for the county's current and future sanitary sewer system.
“The purpose for the model is to establish current needs, project future flows/capacity issues, and study growth trends for long-term planning,” Water Resources Director Adam Layfield told the Board.
The video below was recorded from Zoom.
Herring began his presentation to the Board at 1:59 in the video.
Braswell spoke at 10:21.