Tuesday, April 25, 2023

Oconee Commissioners Delay Decision On Renewal Of Agreement With Oconee County Schools For Joint Use of Sports Facilities

***Comprehensive Plan Sent To State For Review***

Oconee County Commissioners on Tuesday night delayed until next week a decision on and further discussion of an agreement with the Board of Education on the increased fees Oconee County Schools wants to charge the county for use of school sports facilities.

The Commissioners delayed the decision at the request of Commissioner Chuck Horton, who said he probably will support the agreement but he wants to discuss it further at the next Board meeting before doing so.

The Commissioners also held a public hearing on the five-year update to the county’s Comprehensive Plan. No citizen spoke at the hearing.

Lee Walton, consultant to the county on the project, led the discussion at the front of the public hearing, summarizing the work that has been done since June of last year leading up to the hearing on Tuesday.

The document next goes to Northeast Georgia Regional Commission and the state Department of Community Affairs for review prior to adoption by the Board of Commissioners in June.

Comprehensive Plan Hearing

Walton, who is with WSP USA in Atlanta, spent about 15 minutes at the front of the meeting on Tuesday going over the time line for the five-year update to the 2018 Comprehensive Plan, giving particular attention to the level of citizen input.

Screen Shot Comprehensive Plan And Update Summary

The county received in excess of 1,400 respondents to a volunteer survey it had placed on the county web site, he said, and about 30 people turned out for the in-person open house on March 29 at Oconee County Veterans Park.

The county has received 26 comments on the plans from those who participated in the open house either in-person or virtually, Walton said.

Each of the counties four cities–Bishop, Bogart, North High Shoals, and Watkinville–held a focus group, and the county held focus groups on Mars Hill Road, U.S. 78, U.S. 441, the Board of Education, Developers, Design Professionals, and the Oconee Chamber of Commerce.

The focus groups had between five 10 participants each.

When Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell called for comments at the end of Walton’s presentation, no one stepped forward or raised a hand virtually for recognition.

Changes in the Comprehensive Plan include a small increase in the Agriculture Preservation and Rural Places character areas and Updated Short Term Work Plans listing projects planned or underway in the county and in each of the four cities.

Agreement Between Boards

Lisa Davol, Parks and Recreation Director for the county, presented the Board of Commissioners with a summary of the changes proposed by the Board of Education in the Joint Use Agreement for school and county sports facilities.

Until three years ago, the county and the school system had used each other’s facilities without charge, but the Board of Education proposed an agreement then that began charging the county what it calls a nonprofit fee for use of its facilities.

In the current year–the final one under the current contract–the county is paying 60 percent of the nonprofit fee, and, under the agreement proposed by the Board of Education, that percentage will go up to 75 percent in July, to 90 percent next July, and to 100 percent in 2026.

“We are on track in FY 23 (the current fiscal year) to pay approximately $30,000 to the school system for the use of their facilities,” Davol told the Board on Tuesday night.

“I anticipate that will go up next year with the increased percentages as well as the opening of Dove Creek Middle School and the potential to utilize that gym as well as the football field,” Davol continued.

Those costs are passed along to participants in the programs that use Oconee County Schools facilities in what are labeled as a “School Use Fee,” Davol said.

“In order to provide the programs at the participation rate that we have,” she said. “We need all those facilities to do so. So our recommendation is to continue the joint use agreement with the school system.”

Horton’s Response

When Davol had finished, Commissioner Horton turned to Daniell and said “All I’m going to ask you right now is to take it off the consent.”

Davol Facing, Right To Left, Commissioners
Saxon, Harden, Horton, Mark Thomas, Daniell

The Tuesday meeting was for Agenda Setting for the regular meeting next Tuesday, and items placed on the Consent Agenda are tentatively approved at the Agenda Setting Meeting and finally approved as a group with discussion at the Regular meeting.

‘I’d like to say some things,” Horton said, “but I’d rather do it at the formal meeting when its voted.”

“I won’t say that I won’t support it,” Horton continued. “But really, we don’t have a choice.”

Horton said he grew up in Glynn County on the Georgia coast “and the School Board doesn’t charge the county. You’ve got a lot more kids. And they seem to have a pretty good relationship.”

“So I’ll reserve the rest of my comments for the main meeting,” he said. “But this one just eats at me, to be quite honest with you.”

County Charges

The Agreement proposed by the Board of Education lists fees for the coming year and states that the Board “reserves the right to amend their fees each year thereafter the execution of this agreement.”

The agreement states that the county can charge Oconee County Schools for use of county recreational facilities, but Daniell said the agreement will state that the county will not charge fees during the three years of the agreement.

Davol said basketball and tackle football are the primary county programs that are using school sports facilities.

Davol said the middle schools softball teams play at county facilities.

“If I’m not mistaken, Malcom Bridge Middle School does not have a softball field,” Davol said. “They used to be at Bogart Sport Complex and now they’re at OVP (Oconee Veterans Park) with Oconee Middle School.” (An aerial overview of the campus shows no baseball or softball field at the school.)

Commissioners Amry Harden and Mark Saxon asked Daniell to clarify that the county did not intend to charge Oconee County Schools for use of county facilities during the duration of the agreement.

“If everybody changed their mind up here and decided you wanted to charge $30,000 for the two softball fields,” Daniell said, breaking into laughter and not finishing the sentence.

“We said from the first draft of this agreement,” Daniell said, “that we wanted it in there–zero,” for the county’s charge to Oconee County Schools.

Oconee County Schools also uses facilities at Heritage Park, Herman C. Michael Park, and Veterans Park, Davol said back in January when the new fee schedule was proposed by Oconee County Schools.

Other Action

In other action at the meeting on Tuesday, the Commissioners agreed tentatively to a right of way contract with the Georgia Department of Transportation for the planned roundabout on Hog Mountain Road at Snows Mill Road. The county will cover the costs of purchase of the rights of way.

The county also agreed to a $240,825 contract with Wright Brown Electric, with offices in Athens, for traffic signal installation on Hog Mountain Road and Union Church Road and for signal head replacements on the Oconee Connector.

Public Works Director Jody Woodall said that the Georgia Department of Transportation has said it will deliver the signal for Union Church Road yet this month.

The Board also approved a Memorandum of Understanding with the Oconee Parks Foundation, a not-for-profit Georgia corporation, that specifies how the Foundation will operate and be governed and its relationship to the county.

The agreement states that “the primary purpose of the Foundation is to secure, manage, and invest privately raised funds, gifts and bequests in support of the (county’s Parks and Recreation) Department’s programs, services and facilities.”

All of these items were placed on the consent agenda for the meeting on May 2.


The video below, recorded from Zoom, is of the April 25 Board of Commissioners meeting.

Discussion of the Comprehensive Plan begins at 1:33 in the video.

Discussion of the agreement between the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners for joint use of sports facilities begins at 26:48 in the video.

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