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8-31-09 Oconee County Today – Schools, Banks, Economy, Revenue, Population projections

………Our long term future is very promising, in my opinion. However, economic issues have severely impacted the building industry, banks, utility revenue, debt service and operating revenue. Our banks are hurting more than the general public realizes. SEE Bankrate.com info below…………………………. Too often in the last 15 or more years, our schools have been used as a sales tool by realtors and developers. ………………………………..

AVOC

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August 30, 2009

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Oconee County Today – Schools, Banks, Economy, Revenue, Population projections

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc

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Over the last several years, I have been critical of our county leadership- particularly on ‘fast-growth’ and spending policies.   The criticism resulted from intimate knowledge of and experience with the county and its modern history.    We had been on a moderate and manageable growth path.    While I am not necessarily gifted with extraordinary vision or prescient abilities, my experience and observation did raise some concerns.   Some of those concerns have been realized in the last two years.

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OCONEE COUNTY, GEORGIA

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My service to our county and cities over a 30 year span was motivated by altruism, critics notwithstanding.   I still have much pride and ‘ownership’ in my Native Oconee County.   My plans are to be buried here someday.   My overall feeling about Oconee County is positive and upbeat.   Our long term future is very promising in my opinion.   We can learn from and correct our missteps and continue on our path of having a good community.   Economic issues have severely impacted the building industry, banks, utility revenue, debt service and operating revenue.   Our banks are hurting more than the general public realizes.   SEE Bankrate.com info ….

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Oconee County has Ups and Downs and this article will address some of them.

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ECONOMY and REVENUE:

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UPS:Oconee County has had much positive growth in the last 20-30 years.   Most of its subdivisions and commercial projects have been of high quality.   The commercial growth has brought a plethora of retail sale outlets that has brought much needed sales tax revenue for the schools and county government.  Oconee.Sales.Taxes.08.LosSpl.3.23.08.pdf x

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Unemployment is low and our (average) per capita income is high although not everyone earns in the high percentile of incomes. Oconee richest county & Highest but not richest.    For February, the county with the lowest unemployment rate in Georgia was Oconee County, at 6 percent.   We do have a great standard of living.

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DOWNS:  While we have been successful in the past, we now have far too many vacant approved subdivisions and developed lots.   The building industry has stalled for the last two years.   The supply of lots and houses indicate a large inventory to be reduced when we do see more recovery.   Meanwhile, we have committed most of our water and sewer capacity for empty lots with minimal if any revenue. SEE:  Big supply of existing homes makes it a buyer market AB-H, Don Nelson, 8.30.09

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6-1-09 Oconee Economic Recovery will come eventually but boom bubble is over for sometime

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BANKS & COUNTY REVENUE:

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This slowdown has hurt utility revenue and county operating revenue.   It has hurt our local banks that loaned money in the boom times and need to recoup their money from reduced values in collateral.   The Banks are hurting more than generally known.   Bank Star Ratings for Oconee Area Institutions 8-29-09.pdf x

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1,000 Banks to Fail In Next Two Years: Bank CEO 8-28-09

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Meltdown 101: Why banks' struggles have worsened - AP 8-29-09

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2-16-09 Banks struggling – Local Banks on list of GA challenged banks

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UTILITY REVENUE is down (Graph.Oconee.Water.Sewer.Sales.6.3.08.pdf x) and we are now hoping that Atlanta water problems may relieve some of our debt pressure on Hard Labor Creek.    I hope I am wrong but that seems more like “wishful thinking”.    Lots of folks are speculating on how to supply water to Atlanta.   At the same time UGA says it has enough water from Bear Creek Reservoir.   Bear Creek water capacity expansion would have been the preferred option for Oconee County water needs.

8-29-09 Water, Reservoirs, Atlanta, Bear Creek and Hard Labor Creek.pdf x

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JAIL:Revenue downturns have demonstrated that we might have used overly optimistic growth figures in building our new jail.   Excess capacity for 80 inmates is being negotiated with Fulton County.   That will bring some revenue but expenses will increase with a larger population and will bring more ‘wear and tear’ to our new jail.  However, the arrangement may help avoid the laying off of jail personnel.

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SCHOOLS:

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UPS:Our County has had a reputation for a good school system for many years.   A view of the area test scores for the region shows that it still does.SEE:  ACT scores, number who take test rise; Oconee citizens are generally more affluent and have a higher educational attainment.SEEUGA a draw in Oconee; The Athens Banner-Herald -Lee Shearer 8-30-09

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DOWNS:   Too often in the last 15 or more years, our schools have been used as a sales tool by realtors and developers.    It has involved prospects even touring the schools before buying a house.   Our school faculties have enough to do without entertaining this type attention.

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Some officials bought into that philosophy resulting in promotion of growth of the system and sometimes building new schools in an area of ‘expected growth’.   This policy has helped accelerate growth in rural areas.   It has also stretched resources.   Some of us had reservations about Oconee County needing a second High School in the late 90’s.

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However, ‘projections’ were used to justify building.   Many population and revenue projections have demonstrated their failings with the economic downturn of the last couple of years.    Rosy predictions of a fast recovery are also inaccurate.   Oconee will not have houses on all its vacant, developed lots for many years.    The recent incidents involving the North Oconee High School principal have exposed some of those problems.

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SEE: Supporters press case for principal   August 29, 2009; Parents rally for principal August 28, 2009 – Athens Banner-Herald; COMMENTS EXCERPTS:

Oconee School System Comments Excerpts - John Osborn Issues 8-26-28-09.pdf x (emphasis added for reader convenience)

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We will overcome these issues and have a bright future. We have a lot of county and school pride.   A majority of our citizens have a high appreciation of education.   This bodes well for our school system.


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Parkside Entrance on Mars Hill Road

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Pebblebrook @ Coldwater Entrance @ Whippoorwill Road 6-2-09

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UGA a draw in Oconee

The Athens Banner-Herald Lee Shearer 8-30-09

http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/083009/uga_487673837.shtml

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………..nearly 83 percent of Oconee graduates continue in school after graduation - ranking Oconee not only among the top counties in Georgia, but among the top counties in the country, according to UGA demographer Doug Bachtel.

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