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# 09/27/00 - Report on Oconee County By Wendell Dawson

 

REPORT ON OCONEE COUNTY 
September 27, 2000
BY:  Wendell T. Dawson
Oconee County Board of Commissioners
P O Box 145
Watkinsville GA 30677

To the Citizens of Oconee County:

      Summer is now officially over.  It was one of the hottest and driest in recent memory.  We have been dealing with drought conditions for over two years.  The GOOD NEWS is that we went through the summer without disruption of our water flow.  We appreciate the efforts of our customers in practicing conservation and the Utility Department for its professional management of our water sources to keep water flowing and to avoid having to pay high prices to other jurisdictions for water.  Our increased well supply helped tremendously.  Wells will continue to be an integral part of the county's water system for many years.
    We have also had good news on economic development matters that are discussed in more detail in this report.
    One of the most difficult challenges to an elected official is being able to communicate with citizens.  In most cases, good news is not "news"!  Even "bad news" can often be selectively reported.  That is why we have used the newsletter format to communicate with citizens.  I plan to continue a letter after the end of my term.  It will deal with news, comment, opinions and observations.  It will appear on my new website -
www.anothervoicefromoconeecounty.com and will be mailed to some without internet access.
    From a personal standpoint, I am feeling a sense of relief as I prepare to leave office and the weight of day-to-day responsibilities of years of public service.  I am excited about plans for my new career opportunities.  I am in the process of relocating my office from the courthouse square to the Jennings Mill / Paul Broun Parkway area and plan to change the emphasis of my law practice.
    We plan to do our final " COUNTY REPORT" in December with interesting data and statistics about the' 90s along with some status summaries.

                                            Sincerely,                                       
                      
                                                                                              Wendell Dawson                        

 

ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT  
   Wal-Mart has been approved for a Super Wal-Mart store on Epps Bridge Parkway. The store should be similar to the store on Lexington Road with over 200,000-sq. ft., including groceries and a bank. It should generate sales similar to Lowes & Home Depot, which we believe produce approximately $0,000 per month at Oconee's 3% sales tax rate for SPLOST, LOST & SCHOOL - SPLOST. Wal-Mart should bring approximately  450 to 500 employees or jobs to the county.  We have been talking off and on with Wal-Mart representatives for about 6 years. The discussions got more serious about a year ago.  They investigated several sites before filing for rezone on the current site. The county responded to inquiries about zoning, development standards, water flow and pressure, sewer capacity, road access, fire protection needs and plans. Because of the sensitivity of the matter (land acquisition possibilities, zoning issues - which can never be guaranteed ahead of time) much of the preliminary discussions were held by me personally with intermediaries of Wal-Mart.  These type situations require confidentiality until land and corporate headquarters' decisions are made.  
 
An area automobile dealer has been talking to us about possible sites for about two years. Similar considerations, including land negotiations, required confidentiality. The dealer has five popular and prestigious franchises and plans to build three dealership facilities at the proposed location on Epps Bridge Parkway. The dealer employs 130 people currently. While sales taxes on cars are generally paid in the purchaser's county of residence, parts are taxed in the host county. Car sales should also increase in the host county because of convenience to patrons. The projected total tax impact, including sales & property tax, should be significant. These type businesses continue to increase the employment rolls for Oconee and provide a customer base for the restaurants, etc., that we would like to see locate in the area. If the county persists in its infrastructure improvements to meet the challenges, then the recent commercial and office complexes in Oconee will only be the beginning. We must be vigilant to the demands made and adhere to our standards. It requires patience, steadfastness and significant commitment of limited resources.  However, the resources committed act as seed money for growing our non-residential tax base and must be consistent with the county's master plan.  So far, we have held the facilities to our overall long-range transportation and zoning plans.   

SEWER CAPACITY-APARTMENTS
   A property owner has indicated he may file suit against the county and the City of Watkinsville to force the county to provide sewer service for a proposed 45-unit apartment complex in Watkinsville. For several years, county policy has limited sewer connection and service to existing contracts, including some easement agreements, and to commercial and institutional development. The problem is simply that we do not presently have the capacity to serve residential properties and meet our commercial and institutional needs.  A few years ago the county doubled the Watkinsville plant to 400,000 gallons capacity. Only approximately 100,000 gallons in capacity remains unused at the Calls Creek WWTP in Watkinsville. We are working on plans for a 100,000-gallon upgrade that is estimated to cost in excess of a million dollars. To pay for it will take a significant portion of the SPLOST receipts over the next 18-24 months.  To go to 1-million gallons may take 5 to 7 million dollars!  We have dedicated annual SPLOST funds of 1-million dollars a year for water and sewer projects. We need the current small capacity remaining for planned retail facilities, schools, restaurants, possible hotel(s), office-technology park develop-ment, etc. If we serve one apartment complex, we will be required to serve any others that come along.  I know of at least two tracts in Watkinsville and three in the unincorporated area where inquiry was made about service for apartment development. A restaurant, grocery store, or large retail facility can each require 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of capacity. The comprehensive plan and several annual planning meetings have supported the policy of priority for development that would broaden the tax base for the county.

HERITAGE PARK
   The county has a committee of approximately 10 staff members and department heads who meet and coordinate planned improvements and funding of same for Heritage Park. They prioritized some projects that were recently presented to and approved by the Board of Commissioners for construction such as:  1. Gate and Perimeter fence to provide security for the Park and existing facilities - approximate cost of $0,000;  2. Electrical and equipment building behind the pavilion and in the edge of the woods - approximate cost of  $0,000;  3. Sand and irrigation system - to control dust for the pavilion floor - approximate cost of $,500;  4. Electrical and lighting for the pavilion - approximate cost of $0,000.   William White will act as construction superintendent on these projects, which will be constructed with county equipment and personnel with the electrical being done by a licensed electrician.  These items will allow the pavilion to be more effectively used. Some events have not been scheduled because of the lack of lighting, etc. Rick Lewis recently supervised the construction of badly needed restrooms.   Some bleachers and an entrance sign have been ordered.  Other improvements, including plans for parking, a lake and an amphitheater are being explored by staff and the citizens advisory committee as funds allow and after acquiring the necessary permits for the lake construction.  The present Animal Shelter should be converted to a park headquarters and equipment building within the next year.

ANIMAL SHELTER
   The Board of Commissioners has approved the location and construction plans for a new Animal Shelter at 1171 Branch Road, adjacent to the old landfill and Heritage Park property.  Space has been a problem for some time.  Numbers of animals in the facility has increased tremendously in the last 10 years from 649 in 1991, 1000 in 1995, to 1203 in 1999. Voters approved $50,000 in the November 2, 1999 SPLOST for the shelter.  County staff visited the White County shelter and obtained a copy of the plans used to build it.  The building will consist of 4,929 sq. ft., including office space and two runs.  The office area will include a small cat and puppy holding facility, a treatment room and a meeting room for the Animal Control Advisory Board and visitors. There will be a total of 74 runs in the new facility compared to 15 in the current facility. We plan to use county personnel to build the facility and it should be operational by the summer of 2001.

WATER-SEWER PROJECTS

Water projects completed recently have included the following:
·          One million-gallon storage tank at Mars Hill-Malcom Bridge Roads paid with Revenue Bonds
         and  SPLOST;
·          Cole Springs main line from GA 53 to GA 186 in High Shoals paid by SPLOST and developer
         contribution;
·          Kenway Drive Water Main with customer financial contribution;
·          Pioneer Woods Water Main with customer contribution;
·          Rocky Branch-Malcom Bridge water main extensions to serve the LAS site at Eastville and to 
         provide a cross connection between the GA 53 Main and the Mars Hill Rd Main paid from GEFA 
         and SPLOST;
·          Additional five wells connected to the Main distribution system providing additional daily well 
         capacity to date of 410,000 gpd.
·          New meter and backflow device installed at High School to provide better flow at High School 
         with funding by the county and school system;
·          New treatment equipment added to Hickory Hill and Wilson Well (at Barber Creek and Mars Hill)
         to improve quality and efficiency and funded by SPLOST and developer contributions under county
         Well Policy.
  
Sewer Projects completed include:
·          Modifications to Calls Creek WWTP;
·          Upgrade of Cyclone Treatment system at Calls Creek.
 
Water projects pending and in progress include:
·          24" water main from Bear Creek regional reservoir in Jackson County, starting at the Barrow 
         County line and extending to Mars Hill Road Main with funding by SPLOST and Revenue Bonds;
·          Upgrade of Briar Lakes and Oakpoint wells to improve production paid by OCUD and developer
         contribution;
·          New telemetry system installed for water storage management paid by utility dept funds;
·          Contract entered into with developer to install a 12” ductile iron line along New High Shoals Rd 
         from Union Church Road to Elder Rd and an 8” line along Elder Rd to Hickory Ridge Subdivision
         to connect two large producing county owned wells and provide fire protection and water supply 
         for that area of the county -- total cost $74,000 with the  developer paying $66,000 and county
         paying $08,000 from SPLOST.
 
Sewer Projects in progress or pending:
·          Grading and pond development at LAS site is 80% complete; funding by GEFA and SPLOST;
·          LAS plant work and irrigation system to be bid in late October;
·          LAS force main and collection system is undergoing EPD review and approval process;
·          Line extension on Hwy 441 to Ray’s corner is pending EPD final approval and bidding;
·          Barber Creek (Oconee Connector area) sewer line is in design phase with 30 % completed.

   The county and engineers are moving as fast as funding sources and design and approval allows to improve water and sewer service and capacity for fire protection and to serve commercial and institutional activities.  We have a lot going on!!!

ROAD PROJECTS
   Recently completed PAVING projects are:  1. Old Farmington Rd.-Colham Ferry end  (0.4 mile);  2. Hardigree-Bell Rd-Colham Ferry end (0.5 mile); 3.  Cul-de-sacs at the ends of Barnett Ridge and Golf Course Lane.  Estimated Cost: $ 92,379.
   Grading projects for paving in 2001 included the following dirt roads:  1. Virgil Langford Rd. South (Mars Hill end);  2.  Ashford Road off McRee Gin Rd. These roads were graded by our Road Department personnel and graveled for paving after a year of traffic for compaction.  They were widened and drainage was installed.
   Resurfacing projects totaling 4.66 miles, including heavy base repairs, under a contract with GA DOT have been completed on a portion or all of the following roads: 1.Travis Drive;  2. Pioneer Circle;  3. Castle Road;  4. Friar Road;  5. Hickory Hills Drive; 6. Hickory Lane; 7. Hollow Creek Lane;  8. Hollow Creek Way; and 9. Fox Glenn Drive.  Estimated cost:  $ 209,356
   LARP projects, funded by DOT subject to patching and repair requirements to be done by the county, are undergoing repairs on 3.36 miles for portions of Hodges Mill Road, Julian Drive, Simms Drive and Tanglebrook Drive.  Estimated cost for local repairs is $ 108,000 plus county equipment and personnel time.
Restriping has been completed on the Oconee Connector left turn lane at Daniells Bridge Rd, which had to wait until DOT was able to make and install the overhead directional signs for southbound traffic. Approximately 30.2 miles of roads, throughout the county and in Bogart and North High Shoals is scheduled to be completed in September.  Estimated cost to County: $ 26,570.
   Oconee Connector Phase II, from Virgil Langford to Jennings Mill, has been completed and opened to traffic. Estimated cost to county: $ 237,875
   Road projects, including repair and resurfacing, are an ever-increasing expense. The GA DOT does not allow much flexibility for the repair requirements for subdivision streets versus main roads.  The DOT is paying less than 40% of the paving and resurfacing on county contracts but the repair requirements are ever increasing. Staff and I have decided that the county could do many short streets in subdivisions and light traffic roads quicker and more economically in the future without involving the DOT. After all, the state funding on local road projects is declining more and more each year while the needs are increasing.

SENIOR CENTER
   County staff and the NEGA RDC have been working on a grant application for a Community Development Block Grant to fund the construction of a new senior center.   We have been looking for a site for sometime.  A couple of years ago, we moved the Center from the Bishop building to the Annex as an interim site because of flooding problems and to have the seniors more centrally located. However, the county needs the space at the Annex for offices for Engineering, Public Works, Planning, Code Enforcement, etc. At one time, Heritage Park was considered but some did not want it there and others thought it was not near enough to the population center. 
   For months, we looked for sites near Watkinsville and the Butler’s Crossing area. The School Election District (now called Briarwood) is probably the largest election district in the county but has no county-owned public buildings.  We looked at numerous sites but found prices to be too high for the county to purchase.  In late winter, James Ashe, representing the Oconee Council on Aging contacted us about the possibility of locating the center at Herman Michael Park to allow the seniors access to the gym, walking trails, picnic areas and other amenities.  At first, I was skeptical about the idea because of space and other considerations.  However, the Recreation Director was excited about the prospect.  So the county engineers, recreation staff, Senior Center staff and the building & grounds superintendent looked at potential sites.  Initially, a site beside the John Brannen Building was considered.  However, it was determined that building on this site would be detrimental to drainage in the park and the cost of hauling dirt to make this a level site made this prohibitively expensive.  Staff then recommended a site between the tennis courts and Elder Rd.  The building would have an attractive brick front that would add much to the entrance to Herman Michael Park so staff recommended it be near the front to be visible. Soccer would not be disrupted and new tennis courts to be added to the park in the future could be located at a different site.
   Meantime, some of us had an opportunity to visit the new Centers in Madison and Oglethorpe Counties. These are very nice and spacious community facilities that can be used for other gatherings (outside the times used by the seniors) such as Little League and other organized groups
   Jon Walker, who is knowledgeable about CDBG grants (eligibility is tied to benefits to low and moderate income citizens -- for purposes of this grant, seniors automatically meet the criteria), suggested we pursue the grant this year with the assistance of the NEGA RDC personnel who file many applications each year for other counties.  A CDBG grant can be funded up to $00,000.  A center, without land costs, can run over $50,000.  It would be difficult for the county to fund one in the near term without some grant funding.   CDBG grants helped build our Health Department Building, pave and run water lines to the Cemetery Rd area and another one helped pave streets and run water lines in the Dowdy Rd area.
    As part of the grant process, a recent public hearing was held at the courthouse. Most attendees were supportive and enthusiastic about the project.  Some questioned the location but most were satisfied after learning of the events and factors leading to the site selection.  We are not optimistic that the grant will be funded this year but there will be a second round in the spring and our application will be eligible for consideration then.
   The grant would speed up the building of a new senior center, which could offer much to our seniors and other citizens.

WILLIAM DANIELL HOUSE
   Restoration efforts for the William Daniell House, off Daniells Bridge Road, are nearing completion under the direction of Stephanie Goff who has been in charge of this project. Candace Barber has been the county liaison. County personnel have helped with the grounds and are presently constructing restrooms. Staff, the Historic Sites & Tourism Advisory  Committee and Stephanie Goff are working on an open house and fundraiser at the house in mid-November.  They are also looking for furnishings consistent with the 1800 era. Many people are excited about the completion of the restoration and the future uses of the house. Pictures of the house are available on the county website at www.oconeecounty.com. 

PERSONNEL ADDITIONS
CODE ENFORCEMENT -- Melissa Henderson joined the Code Enforcement office on July 24, 2000. She is SBCCI certified and has training and experience in Auto CAD, ARC/Info and graphics design.  She is a registered Real Property Appraiser for the State of Georgia.  She was formerly with the Baldwin County Code Enforcement Department and served as a volunteer firefighter for Baldwin County.

RECREATION -- Jone Taylor began work as Oconee County's Recreation Director on August 21, 2000. Jone has considerable experience in her field having spent the last ten years as an Athletics Division Administrator for Athens-Clarke County. For 3 1/2 years previous to that, she was Recreation Specialist and Center Director for the Hillsborough County, Florida Recreation Department.

Both Melissa and Jone make fine additions to our county staff and we welcome them.

BEAR CREEK REGIONAL RESERVOIR
   There are five contract jobs underway at the reservoir site in Jackson County just north of Bogart on GA Hwy. 330.  The contracts are as follows: 1. River intake and pumping station on Middle Oconee and abutting SR 330; 2. Raw water transmission lines to Jackson, Barrow and Oconee Counties; 3. Water treatment plant on new location of Savage Road on the SR 330 side of the reservoir; 4. Finished water transmission lines to Jackson, Barrow and Oconee Counties;  5. Earth embankment and spillway.  Obviously, all are necessary parts of the larger project. Contract 3 is the most expensive at around 28 million dollars. Contract 5 is next at 6 to 8 million. The contractor on # 5 has encountered some soil quality problems for the dam core as well as deeper rock foundation for the spillway than had been estimated by test borings.  To deal with this, the Authority approved a change order for approximately $66,000 for spillway concrete and additional work.  We also recently approved approximately 1 million dollars for hauling additional fill materials from another borrow area.  We have had sufficient budget funds to handle these change orders. If the winter weather does not interfere, the project should be operational by late summer of 2001. Oconee has a contractor installing a 24" transmission line from the Barrow County line down to Jefferson and Osceola Avenues in Bogart to Mars Hill Road to bring Oconee's share of the water to our system.

UTILITY DEPARTMENT MILESTONES

Since privatization, the Oconee County Utility Department has been recognized for the following achievements:
·          State GW & PCA Water Taste Contest --  Region 2 winners 
·          Water Taste Statewide Competition - 2nd place winners
·          State Gold Award for 1999 Water Treatment
·          State Safety Award - scored 142 out of a possible 145 points
  The Utility Department had a budget surplus for '99-'00 and submitted a balanced budget for '00-'01; increased well production from 700,000 gallons per day to over 1,400,000 gpd; reduced the amount of purchased water by more than 50%; and initiated a new late notice measure that decreased cost and disconnects for nonpayment by 70%.   In addition, several staff members received certification in an ongoing effort to raise the caliber of its workforce. 

 WATER COSTS

·          A 16-oz. bottle of water at any store costs about $.19 and you have to go to the store to get it.
·          It would take 8000 16-oz. bottles to make 1000 gallons.
·          Eight thousand 16-oz. bottles would cost $,520 and this does not include delivery.
·          One thousand gallons of water, weighing over 4 tons, is delivered to your home by the Utility Department at a 
         cost of $.80.

CAMPAIGN FINANCIAL DISCLOSURE REPORTS
    State law requires all candidates for elective office to file periodic Campaign Contributions and Expenditures reports. Several are required at critical times during the Primary and Election cycles. The intent is to allow citizens to know who is contributing to candidates. As of July 28, all candidates have filed their reports with the exception of one elected official who is in a contested race.  Earlier reports had some deficiencies (i.e. not notarized etc) including the lack of contributions or expenditures listing for a local paper that ran a number of ads, including at least one full page. These matters have been brought to the attention of the candidate and the State Ethics Commission.

THIS 'N THAT
   To accommodate growth within county departments, the ACTION and RIGHT FROM THE START-MEDICAID offices have been moved from their locations at the Government Annex to the Bishop Area Community Center on U S 441. The newly formed FAMILY CONNECTION office will also operate from the Bishop Area Community Center.
   The NORTHEAST GEORGIA MENTAL HEALTH CENTER will be moving to the old Bogart library building in Bogart in November. These moves will allow the county to accommodate the growing Public Works Department.

CITIZEN COMMITTEES --Approximately 29 people actually serve in the 57 posts on the 7 Citizen Advisory Committees being considered for restructuring.  It spreads staff and many participants thin in trying to deal with several different but related missions.


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