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12-31-09 Review of 2009 Oconee County has serious water, economic, tax and budget issues

..Some of the BOC members have said they do not get many applicants for the committee posts. I believe there would be applicants if citizens believed in their effectiveness. The Board needs to revamp the committee system and appoint persons who have no business interests on the agenda of the committees.

AVOC

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December 28, 2009

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Review of 2009 – Oconee County has serious water, economic, tax and budget issues

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By Wendell Dawson, Editor, AVOC, Inc

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The depth of the recession impact on Oconee County was more pronounced during 2009.   Sales taxes are down.   Building permits are down.   We have 100’s of ‘developed lots’ growing weeds and unpaid tax liens.   Local banks are facing serious challenges.   While the recession is world wide, Oconee is suffering mostly from the bursting of the Housing Bubble.   Land and house prices (tax assessments) grew too fast in recent years.   Those values were unsustainable.It has resulted in many foreclosures, declining land prices and revenues.

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Dozing home market starts to stir - AB-H 12.13.09

http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/121309/new_535115615.shtml

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Oconee has hundreds of approved lots with lower monthly house sales than area counties in recent years.

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While real estate market has declined and many builders are out of business, our Tax Commissioner has done an excellent job of collecting taxes - collection percentages are high.   To spur more payments, she is advertising tax sales for February and April 2010.   In time, lenders or buyers will pay back taxes but I expect they will be more assertive on tax valuations and assessments.   They know about the soft market.

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Oconee County Property Tax Collections 2007-2009 - Schools and County Operations

YEAR

TOTAL DUE

COLLECTED

% Collected

Uncollected

2007

$ 34,755,538

$ 34,713,595

     99.88 %

$      41,943

2008

$ 37,116,619

$ 36,384,256

     98.03 %

$    732,363

2009

$ 37,298,344

$ 33,619,994

     90.14%

$ 3,678,350

Source:   Office of Oconee County Tax Commissioner -12-28-09

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Water and sewer capacity challenges still face Oconee, past claims of big expansion in recent years notwithstanding.  The debt service for Hard Labor Creek Reservoir, on completion, is going to be challenging.   Much of the interest and debt has been deferred.   It has put us in the position of “hoping” Atlanta will buy the water and help with the cost.   I am not sure that is a viable option either.    If Atlanta pays, it will own!

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The BOC reorganized its operating structure this year and it was a good thing.    In many ways, the Board and citizens are better informed.   One problem continues though:Citizen Advisory Committees have lost their Pizzazz.    At one time, the committees represented cross sections of citizens.In recent years, it has become a reservoir for friends and special interests.  

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Oconee Voters Say They Lack Information to Decide on ReorganizationLee Becker.12.29.09

……The survey found that 51.4 percent of the registered voters said they didn’t know enough to have an opinion on the reorganization, and 35.4 percent said they thought the change was a good idea. Only 5.5 percent said they thought it was a bad idea for the county……..

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Since the reorganization, the commission reappointed the controversial Chair of the Oconee Planning Commission, Dan Arnold.   The Land Use Committee is chaired by a Planner-Engineer.   The Courthouse study has been delegated to the Land Use Committee.   Some of the BOC have said they do not get any applicants for the committee posts.   I believe there would be applicants if citizens believed in their effectiveness.   The Board needs to revamp the committee system and appoint persons who have no business interests on the agenda of the committees.

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4-16-09 Life’s Ups & Downs – Economy downturn and changes in positions of wealth and fame

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Most people I talk to think the Commission needs to buy the 11.34 acres (Booth, Marable and Christopher) adjacent to the courthouse for future use.   The market favors buyers and this kind of possibility does not occur often.   The space can be better utilized for County Facilities than as apartments or condos.  

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Some of the commissioners are putting too much stock in security claims of the sheriff.   I know of no courthouse, other than Barrow, that has located the courthouse AT THE JAIL!    Counties much larger than Oconee have kept their courthouses downtown and have no trouble transporting and managing prisoners.   How many times do we see handcuffed and chained inmates going down halls of the Courthouse?   This is a “scare tactic” by some who want big buildings with large operating costs.  

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WE DO NOT NEED THAT NOW OR IN THE FORESEEABLE FUTURE.

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Courthouse.Msg.CharlieBaugh.BOC.11.18.09

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From: Charles Baugh
To: jluke13@yahoo.com; Marghale@aol.com; jdaniell@boswelloil.com; horton9884@bellsouth.net
Subject: Courthouse
Date: Wed, 18 Nov 2009 09:06:29 -0500

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Commissioners

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I have followed the courthouse discussions over the last 4 years and come to the following conclusion.  It seems that if you are hell-bent on committing the taxpayers to another expensive project to maintain forever, the best solution is to do it along with the courthouse we now have.  I do not believe all the outlandish estimates of space needs for the next 30 years but it would make sense to build as needed rather than overbuild as we did with the jail.  I suspect you have found staffing and maintaining the jail is expensive and the cost of renting out cells does not cover the cost. 

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By purchasing land next to the courthouse you would have the advantage of designing for current needs as well as providing for future needs without overbuilding and paying for all the upkeep and depreciation before the space is actually needed.  You probably have already found it is expensive to keep up several locations.  Just maintaining infrastructure such as computers and communication equipment is expensive if spread out.

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The argument for putting the court rooms near the jail should be looked at closely.  How often is there a criminal trial where the criminal must be brought to the courtroom?  The jail is not that far away as is.   

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As you go about gathering information on this I urge you to include in cost estimates the true cost to maintain and staff the facility.  That expense is a commitment of county revenues for a long time.

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Charles Baugh 


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WATER:

9-12-09 Hard Labor Creek Reservoir Update – Land Acquisition, Water Flow, Atlanta Source?

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Plenty of Oconee projects, little funds – AB-H 10-22-09

http://www.onlineathens.com/stories/102209/new_507576092.shtml

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Oconee LAND & TAX Values

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12-19-09 Oconee Land values are down- Tax evaluations and Digest should follow in 2010

1-11-09 Oconee Delinquent Tax Info - Oconee Revenue decreases........

Oconee.Delinquent.Taxes.List.1.8.09.pdf x

11-12-08 Oconee needs to rein in spending – revenue is declining Part 1

11-12-08 Oconee needs to rein in spending – revenue is declining - Part 2

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Oconee ROLE of Chair:

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4-23-09 Oconee BOC reviews Chairman’s duties, responsibilities and authority

5-15-09 Oconee BOC needs to stop studying & discussing role of Chair & do something or just move on

7-30-09 Oconee County ‘reorganization’ is no big deal and is long overdue

5-24-09 Oconee BOC needs Backbone on Taxes, Spending, Secret Meetings & County Administration

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Oconee COURTHOUSE:

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3-29-09 Oconee Commissioners ignore voter opinion and input on Courthouse plans

12-1-09 Oconee BOC should invest some of its $ 4 Million SPLOST funds in the Booth-Christopher-Marable tracts adjacent to the Courthouse Complex

10-13-08 Oconee BOC should buy available 10-12 acres adjoining the courthouse complex – AND NOW!

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Oconee ECONOMY:

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

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

10-6-09 Oconee County’s Days of Reckoning – Economy & Economic Development

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BANKS

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9-28-09 Fed & State Regulators take enforcement action with local Oconee County Banks

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……The government restrictions also call for the banks' boards of directors to have greater involvement and oversight of day-to-day operations.    Athens Banner-Herald 9-26-09

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3 Georgia banks shut by federal regulators –Augusta Chronicle-12-5-09

http://chronicle.augusta.com/stories/2009/12/05/bus_558193.shtml

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At Tiny Rates, Saving Money Costs Investors NY Times 12.26.09
By STEPHANIE STROM
Extremely low interest rates on savings accounts have been hard on the elderly and others on fixed incomes.


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