Sunday, June 04, 2023

Board Of Commissioners, School Board To Consider New Joint Use Agreement Dropping Fees For Use Of School, County Sports Facilities

***Commissioners Already Given Preliminary Approval***

Oconee County commissioners and Board of Education members seem to have worked out an agreement for use of county and school sports facilities that basically rolls back the arrangement between the two governing bodies to where it was in 2010.

Neither Oconee County Schools nor the county will charge the other for use of its sports facilities.

The county will pay for any damage done to school facilities while those facilities are used by the county, and Oconee County schools will pay for any damage to county sports facilities while those facilities are used by Oconee County Schools.

As part of the agreement, Oconee County will reduce the fee it charges the Board of Education for collection of school property taxes from its present 2.5 percent to not more than 2 percent.

The Board of Commissioners tentatively approved the new Joint Use Agreement at its meeting on May 23 and is scheduled to approve it finally on Tuesday.

The agreement is on the agenda as an action item for the Board of Education meeting on Monday.

Both governing bodies also are expected to approve their Fiscal Year 2024 budgets at the meetings on Monday and Tuesday, with the Board of Education maintaining its millage rate of 15.5 while the county will drop its rate from 5.954 to 4.954 in the unincorporated areas in the county and from 6.804 to 5.804 in the county’s four cities.

Since neither the Board of Education nor the Board of Commissioners has officially adopted a new millage rate and won’t do so until July or August, Oconee County Tax Commission Jennifer Riddle sent out Annual Assessment Notices last week that did not reflect the drop in the county millage rate.

The Board of Commissioners on Tuesday also will hold four rezone hearings, including a request to locate a dental office in a residential subdivision on Mars Hill Road.

Joint Agreement Revised

The Joint Use Agreement that Board of Commissioners Chair John Daniell presented to the Board at its meeting on May 23 was radically different from the one he had pulled from the agenda of the May 2 Commission meeting.

Daniell And Joint Use Agreement 5/23/2023

At that time, Daniell said he wanted “a little more time to work on that,” referring to the Agreement drafted by Oconee County Schools.

At the May 1 Board of Education meeting, Associate Superintendent Dallas LeDuff had recommended approval by the School Board at its May 8 meeting of an agreement that would have increased over the next three years the fees Oconee County Schools charges the Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department for use of school sports facilities.

Despite LeDuff’s recommendation, the Board of Education took no action on the Joint Use Agreement at its May 8 meeting.

At the May 23 Board of Commissioners meeting, Daniell said that “Everyone’s received a copy of the updated agreement with the Board of Education for joint use of facilities.”

“Changes from our previous version,” Daniell said. “The term of the contract is now five years. The Board of Commissioners agreed not to charge more than two percent for the taxation fee on collection of taxes.”

“The Board of Education will not charge for use of school facilities,” he said, “and the BOC will continue not charging for the use of county facilities.”

Without any discussion, the commissioners agreed to put the Agreement on the consent agenda for the meeting on Tuesday, meaning it will be approved without further discussion unless a commissioner asks that it be removed from the consent agenda.

Revision Of 2010 Agreement

Oconee County Schools Supt. Jason Branch informed the county in a letter dated June 26, 2019, that the School system planned to terminate a 2010 agreement with the county that covered the use by the county and by the school system of county and school system facilities.

The agreement in place at that time, dated Nov. 2, 2010, stated that the school system granted access to its facilities “at no charge” and that the county granted access to its facilities to the school system “at no charge.” The agreement ran for 10 years.

Branch proposed that Oconee County Schools, as of July 1 of 2020, start charging the county the nonprofit rate for use of school sports facilities.

After pushback from the Board, Associate Superintendent LeDuff revised the agreement so that no fees were charged the first year of a three-year agreement, 50 percent of the nonprofit fee was to be charged the second year, and 60 percent of the fee was to be charged the third year.

The Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners approved that agreement, though the county stated that it would continue not to charge Oconee County Schools for use of county sports facilities.

The Oconee County Parks and Recreation Department increased its participation fees as a result of the agreement, and it labeled the increase a “School Use Fee.”

At the Board of Education retreat in January of this year, LeDuff said the three-year Joint Use Agreement will expire on June 30 and “We decided to keep raising the cost to reach the nonprofit rate for Oconee County Parks and Rec.”

The proposed agreement that LeDuff presented to the Board at the May 1 Board of Education meeting and that Daniell pulled from the May 2 Board of Commissioners meeting would have increased the fees to 75 percent of the nonprofit fee in 2024, 90 percent in 2025, and 100 percent in 2026.

Agreement Approved By County Commissioners

The Joint Use Agreement the Board of Commissioners tentatively approved and put on the consent agenda at the May 23 agenda setting meeting will run from July 1 of this year to June 30 of 2028.

The agreement states that the Board of Commissioners will give the Board of Education the right of first refusal on its facilities, and the Board of Education will give the county the right of first refusal for use of its facilities.

Neither the Board of Commissioners nor the Board of Education will charge the other for use of its facilities.

Both the Board of Education and the Board of Commissioners will maintain their facilities and provide field maintenance schedules when requested. Each also will provide the normally scheduled custodial services for its facilities.

The agreement states that “BOC shall install, repair, maintain, and be responsible for (including risk of loss) all BOC-owned equipment BOC desires to use on the facility premises for which BOE has given its consent.”

The Board of Education shall do the same for its use of county facilities.

“BOC agrees to repair, replace, or pay for any damage done to the facility while under BOC control that is a direct result of the use by BOC other than normal wear,” according to the agreement.

The Board of Education similarly shall be response for damage while using county facilities, according to the agreement.

Tax Collection Fee

Oconee County charges Oconee County Schools a fee for collection of ad valorem taxes to fund the Tax Commissioner Office and other county offices, such as the Property Appraisal Office.

At present that fee is 2.5 percent, which, according to the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget before the Board of Education on Monday, will result in a payment to the county of $1,148,091.

The Joint Use Agreement approved by the Board of Commissioners on May 23 reduces that fee to no more than 2 percent.

The 2 percent rate would result in a Tax Collection Fee of $918,473, or a saving of $229,618.

LeDuff announced in April that Oconee County Schools had decided to take over payments from the cunty for the deputies providing traffic control in front of schools.

The county is paying $121,075 for the cost of the deputies at present, Daniell said at the time.

Budget Hearing

Prior to the beginning of the meeting on May 23, the Board of Commissioners held a hearing on its proposed Fiscal Year 2024 Budget of a little more than $75 million, or an increase of 13.9 percent over the approved Fiscal year 2023 Budget.

Braswell And Budget 5/23/2023

No citizen offered comment at the hearing. A second hearing will be at the beginning of the meeting on Tuesday.

Finance Director Melissa Braswell told the Board at the first hearing that revenue from property tax in the budget is $18.4 million, down from $20.4 million in the current fiscal year, because of the 1 mill drop in property taxes.

The budget includes $10.6 million in revenue from the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax that voters approved in November and that went into effect on April 1.

The Board of Commissioners promised to reduce the property tax by 1 mill if voters approved the TSPLOST referendum.

That rate reduction was not reflected in the Annual Assessment Notices Oconee County Tax Commission Jennifer Riddle sent out last week.

The notices showed increases in property tax assessments for homeowners and resulting estimated increases in taxes to be owed.

The estimates for Oconee County Schools will be accurate, since the Board of Education does not plan to reduce the 15.5 millage rate from last year.

The estimates for the county will be just less than 17 percent lower in the unincorporated parts of the county and 14.7 percent lower in the county’s four cities.

Fee Schedules

Included in the $75 million county budget is a $15.4 million expenditure budget for the Water Resources Department.

In the current Fiscal Year Budget, that figure was $16.4 million.

The Fiscal Year 2024 Budget for the county includes Fee Schedules.

Included is an increase from $16.18 to $16.75 in the base water rate for residential users and from $37.43 to $38.74 for base commercial users with a 1 inch main.

The residential sewer base charge will go up from $17.62 to $18.46, while the commercial base charge will increase from $42.78 to $44.81.

The 3.5 percent increase in the base residential water rate follows a 3.5 percent increase last year. The commercial rate increase of 3.5 percent was after a 3.4 percent increase a year ago.

The 4.8 percent increase in residential sewer and commercial base sewer charges follows a 4.8 percent increase a year ago.


The Board of Commissioners will hold hearings on Tuesday on four rezone requests.

The Milner Group of Lawrenceville is seeking to rezone 6.0 acres at the corner of Mars Hill Road and Julian Drive for an office park.

The Chambers Family Partnership of Athens is seeking to downzone 16.1 acres on Meriweather Drive for a six-lot residential subdivision and to rezone 8.7 acres on Jennings Mill Road for an office complex.

Dr. Brent and Mary Lynn Nail are seeking to rezone a 3.1 acre residential lot in the Oakridge subdivision on Mars Hill Road so they can move their dental office to that location.

The Nails also are seeking a special exception application to allow the single access point to the proposed dental office from Hollow Creek Lane, a residential street, and another special exception to allow for 29 parking spaces, rather than the 14 that would be allowed under county zoning regulations.

Five citizens spoke in opposition to the Nail request at the Planning Commission meeting on May 15. The Planning Commission, in a 4 to 2 vote, recommended to the Board of Commissioners that the request be denied. It had recommended approval of the other three requests that will be before the Board on Tuesday.

After the meeting, a group calling itself the Mars Hill Responsible Development organization, sent out an email message urging recipients to oppose the rezone.

The group had been very active earlier this year in opposing the unsuccessful request by Deferred Tax LLC to rezone property across Mars Hill Road from the proposed dental office for a shopping center with a Publix.


The video below is from the Board of Commissioners meeting of May 23.

Braswell reviewed the Budget before the Budget hearing at 7:52 in the video.

Daniell made his brief comments about the Joint Use Agreement with the Board of Education at 1:00:20 in the video.

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