Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Oconee Town Hall Meeting Features Discussion Of May Ballot Items On Homestead Exemptions, Library Books, Road Projects

***Few Citizens Come Forward To Speak***

Library Books and traffic concerns were the key topics at the Oconee County Town Hall Meeting held by the Board of Commissioners on last Wednesday.

The meeting began with Board Chair John Daniell outlining the 10 ballot items voters will be asked to approve in the May Primary Election to increase the homestead exemption for all county home owners and simplify property tax exemptions for seniors.

Daniells called for questions when he had finished, and he got a few.

The first question after he opened up the floor for any question was by Jeff Hood, who asked about spending from the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax voters approved a year ago.

He also wanted an update on the planned Traffic light at Hog Mountain Road and Union Church Road and plans for the interchange upgrades on SR 316 and particularly at Julian Drive, near where he lives.

Wanda Stitt-Gohdes told the Board she was concerned about the frequency of people running red lights in the county.

Laura King followed with a complaint about books in the Oconee County Library in Watkinsville, telling the board they are so graphic they would make Playboy Founder Hugh Hefner blush.

Only four citizens addressed the Board, and the meeting ended after 50 minutes when no one stepped forward with more comments or questions.

Senior Exemption

Daniell told those gathered that “over the years...on the Commission we’ve been approached several times about taking another look at the senior exemptions and how they operate in Oconee County.”


“What we found out in our discussions over the years,” Daniell said, “is our (senior) exemptions now require you to go to the Tax Commissioner’s Office and apply for it.”

“There are many instances of people who qualify for a senior tax exemption that are not getting it just because they didn't know about it,” he said. “You have you have to initiate participation.

“You have to go to the tax commissioner, present documents to prove that you're eligible for it, and then a lot of times that'll take more than one trip because you'll have to come back with some additional information.”

At present, persons who turn 65 and go through this process have assessment of their property “frozen.”

Under the new plan, when one of the homeowners reaches age 65, “we're going to freeze your tax assessment of your property or your home in the first five acres that you have,” Daniell said.

Homestead Exemption

In addition, the plan is to increases the exemption that all homeowners receive from taxation of their property from $2,000 to $5,000 in 2025 and double that exemption to $10,000 in 2035, Daniell said.

Commercial property and rental property are not included in this exemption, Daniell said.

Seniors will get an additional tax exemption.

“On your 75th birthday,” Daniell said, “that next January, you'll get an additional $10,000 exemption on your home.”

Daniell said the existing exemptions based on income will be phased out, but those currently receiving them will continue to do so as long as they continue to qualify.

May Ballot Items

Daniell said he and Commissioner Amrey Harden met last year with the county’s legislative delegation to the General Assembly in Atlanta and Tax Commissioner Jennifer Riddle to review what the current laws in the county are and what needed to be changed.

Daniell said he subsequently met with the members of the Board of Education.

He said the Board of Education agreed to support the changes being proposed by the Board of Commissioners.

What is required is that voters in May approve all 10 ballot items that specifically relate to the taxes for the schools and taxes for the county. The old laws must be removed and news ones put into place.

Voters will decide on each ballot item separately, but they must approve all of them for any of the changes to go into effect. The changes, if approved, will take place Jan. 1, 2025.

“If you agree with what we're talking about here,” Daniell said, “we need you to get the word out that for those 10 questions, it's yes, yes, yes, 10 times.”

Daniell went through a PowerPoint presentation, which is on the county web site, reviewing each of the ballot items with an explanation of it.

Following the meeting, County Administrator Justin Kirouac provided the actual legislation, which specifies that the exemption for persons 65 years old or older is on “an amount equal to the amount by which the current year assessed value of that homestead exceeds the base year assessed value.”

This means that, in the unlikely event of a drop on assessment, taxes will be based on the decreased value of the home.

First Traffic Question

Daniell told Hood that the county has gone from roughly $2 million in spending on paving to close to $8 million as a result of passage of the Transportation Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (TSPLOST), which went into effect in April.


The county is working on five intersection improvements in the county using TSPLOST funds, he said, with the first one to be completed will be at Lane Creek Road and Snows Mill Road.

Engineering is underway on the first multi-use path to be built with TSPLOST funds, Daniell said. That path will run along Hog Mountain Road from Butler’s Crossing to Wellbrook Road.

“The next section will be from Oconee County High School to OconeeVeterans Park,” Daniell said.

On the traffic light at Union Church Road and Hog Mountain Road, Daniell said “they poured the concrete. That has to cure for seven to 10 days, which is in that process now. After that, they'll come back, set the poles, and start stringing the lights up.”

“What's going to happen at Julian Drive, nobody knows,” Daniell said.

Daniell said the intersection of McNutt Creek Road and SR 316 is “still under review. “

“Hopefully we'll hear something first quarter next year on that one,” he said, “And then Dial's Mill. It's about in the same time frame. We should see some final recommendations on that interchange as well.”

Running Red Lights

“Red lights in Ocone County seem to be suggestions,” Stitt-Gohdes said when she came to the podium.


“I realize you are not traffic control,” she said, “And I'm just here voicing my concern as one who drives and sees this almost every time I get behind the wheel in the county.”

“It's just very distressing,” she said, “and it's really probably pretty shocking that there haven't been more really seriously bad accidents as a result of it.”

Daniell agreed, and said it is necessary to “drive defensively.”

“So if you're at the light,” he said, “Don't assume that next person's stopping.”

“That's another reason we like roundabouts,” Daniell continued. “Because they they're a lot safer than even a traffic signal.”


King, when she came to the podium, said “I live in Oconee County. I am 50 something.”


“My pronouns are Thee, Thy, and Thine,” she continued. “I have three adult sons who don't live in this area.”

“So I'm speaking for the busy parents who are concerned but cannot be here, and also for the parents who are not aware of the situation until their children have seen graphic, sexual pictures that cannot be unseen.”

“I am here about the library, the books in the library. The material,” she said.

“There's been a lot of controversy regarding material, materials shelved in the children and youth sections of the library,” she said. “Many states are pulling out of the American Library Association because of this inappropriate, sexually explicit material.”

“We have many of these books at our library,” King continued, “with graphic sexual content.”

“Our community, especially conscientious parents, do not want these books available to children under the age of 18,” she said.

“What are you doing to keep such books out of the library?” she asked.

“I want to say, there’s a lot of these book, and they are unbelievable,” King said. “It would be embarrassing for me to show y'all the pictures and the content in these books, so probably illegal in some cases.”

Commissioner Harden Responded

“I appreciate your comments,” Commissioner Harden said when King completed her comments. “I know it's an important topic to a lot of people in this community.”

“I had a lesson in the dynamics of the world of how libraries work,” he said. “And I know there's a process.”

“I know that there's been conversations with the local advisory board about being more aware and attentive of our community,” Harden continued, referring to the Oconee County Library Board of Trustees.

Harden said he knows there is a process in place for handling complaints about materials in the library, and he would like to see the Board meet more frequently than quarterly to respond to complaints.

“But I know that people who have objections to some of the books have used that process,” Harden said, “I'm going to have to trust the process until I see that it does in fact work.”

“I think we've had a great conversation,” he continued. “We need to continue this conversation in the community.”

King asked Harden if he wanted to see some of the books she had with her, and he said “When I came along, they didn't have books like that. We had to sneak around and see a Playboy.”

That led King to make her comment about Heffner.

Commissioner Horton Responded

“I was on the School Board back in 1993 and 1994 when we had an issue with certain books in the school library,” Horton told King.

“I learned, as Amrey did, because his wife was the superintendent at the time and I was one of the Board members, there is a process that you have to abide by. If you break that rule, you're opening yourself up for tremendous lawsuits.”

“We can go and say to the library probably what you said,” Horton continued, “but you’re still going to have to go through that process. I would urge anybody sees books that they don’t like to challenge it.”

“Here's the issue,” Horton said, “Whether you like the book or don't, she might like it,” he said, pointing to someone in the audience. “She might not like it,” he said, pointing to another person. “He might like it,” he said, pointing to a third person in the audience.

“So if the government goes in and says, well ‘I don't want Mark to look at it.’ Mark says, ‘You didn't give me a chance.’” Horton was pointing at Commissioner Mark Thomas, sitting to his right.

“That's the issue that you're playing with with books,” he said.

“I would strongly tell anybody,” Horton said, “you don't want the government picking and choosing everything that you get to look at. There's got to be play in there where individual rights are not violated by the government and where there is a process by which everybody in this room, everybody in this county, can challenge anything that's in that library.”

Final Citizen Comment

Tommy Malcom, the final citizen to come to the microphone, thanked the Board for having the Town Hall Meeting.


“I think it's very helpful for our community,” he said.

Malcom said he wanted the county to have recreational waterways along the Apalachee and Oconee Rivers as they run along the borders of the county.

Water trails along both rivers are part of the Master Trail Plan adopted by the Board of Commissioners earlier this year.


The video below is on the Oconee County YouTube Channel.

The meeting took place in the Commission Chamber on the first floor of the new county Administrative Building.

Daniell began his discussion of the May ballot items immediately after the meeting started at 11:54 in the video.

Hood asked is first question about road and traffic issues at 28:46 in the video.

Stitt-Gohdes spoke at 36:03.

King came to the podium to talk about books at 38:02.

Harden responded to King at 39:35 in the video.

Horton responded at 42:25 in the video.

Malcom spoke at 52:30 in the video.


JC said...

Thanks Chuck Horton for being the voice of reason re: library books. I doubt these book banning types want to start the precedent of such government overreach.
-Julie Crowe

Harold Thompson said...

Julie - As an elected official, I would hope he would be the voice of reason. The libraries are designed to serve everyone in the community. But at the end of the discussion, but both he and Harden seem very (too) accommodating to those who want restrictions based strictly on their preferences.

And the claim that the UN is lowering the age of consent ... where did that come from?