15 Sep 2014
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Patch Instagram photo by themrssauce
Patch Instagram photo by themrssauce
Patch Instagram photo by themrssauce

Does Oconee County need a new $25 Million Courthouse?

Former County Commission Chair Wendell Dawson offers his views on the matter.

Does Oconee County need a new $25 Million Courthouse?

By Wendell Dawson

Does Oconee County need a new $25 Million Courthouse?

The Oconee County Courthouse has been on its site since Oconee County was created in 1875

1.  The present courthouse was extensively renovated with a ribbon cutting in November 1998;

2.  The present courthouse includes a suite for a Superior Court Judge behind the courtrooms on the third floor;

3.  The Courthouse Renovation in the late nineties had considerable input from the Sheriff and Chief Judge Joseph Gaines;

4.  Many citizens do not want the courthouse moved from downtown Watkinsville, the County Seat;

.ISSUES RAISED:

            ASecurity Concerns;  

            - The renovation of the late 90’s left the Old Jail and cells for entrance and holding inmates transported to the courthouse;

            - The renovation of the late 90’s had a dedicated elevator in the rear of the courthouse for transport of inmates and secure passages were built around the courtrooms for movement of inmates to court;

            B.  Parking and Access:

-       A more long-term solution for parking is a parking deck in the courthouse parking lot;

-       Acquire the adjacent 8-10 acres for sale on the south side of the existing complex ;

Booth-Marable Tracts Viewed from Old Jail

-      Water street or a new route should be upgraded to allow traffic to flow from Main St at the Traffic Light at Hardin Hill Road behind the complex to a revised intersection at Main St and GA 53;

FOR DETAIsL, SEE Oconee County Courthouse Complex Details 10.12.08.pdf x

-       Build an Administration Building on the adjacent properties and move the non-court functions to the new Administration Building;

-       Pending construction, some administrative functions could be moved to the houses on the adjacent property to avoid the cost of financing and debt for the Courthouse;

C.   Downtown:

-       Courthouses were traditionally built at the center of town;

-      Courthouses that have moved have had a detrimental impact on local businesses and the downtown areas, see Walton-Monroe and Jackson –Jefferson;

-      Courthouses remain in the center of town in most area counties;

-      Courthouses have remained downtown in Athens-Clarke, Fulton County, DeKalb County, Newton County, Henry County, etc;

-       Downtown can allow walking to restaurants, etc., during court breaks;

D.   PRIORITIES:

-       Does a new courthouse rank higher in importance than increased library space, improved roads, waterlines, sewer improvements;

-       New Structures have name plaques on the building and that is a perceived legacy of some elected officials;

-       What impact do large, new facilities have on future Property Taxes paid by local citizens for maintenance and operation needs;

            E.  FUTURE PLANNING:

            Often one hears that a new facility will provide for “next fifty years” but is that really what happens?

            a.   The current jail was built less than twenty years after the one that was torn down; the 1980’a model had modal expansion (Pods) possibilities;

http://avoc.info/files/JailMarker85-86.8-31-03.jpg

“Old 19 Year Old Jail” Torn Down for New Jail

            b.   The current leaders seem interested in replacing a courthouse that was extensively renovated and expanded in the late nineties, or less than 20 years ago;.

            c.    Do current officials presume to be smarter than past and future county officials – really something to think about!

F.   POLITICS:

        Often times new facilities are driven by egos and politics;

-      Who benefits from sale of land for a courthouse- are there political connections?  Where? Will it be more accessible to major traffic arteries? State law requires the courthouse to be located in the county seat, i.e. City of Watkinsville;

-       Do citizens really see public facilities as Memorials to current officials?

E.  TIMING OF SPLOST VOTE:

       We started hearing about SPLOST 15 in the middle of 2013, a much longer period than earlier SPLOST referendum planning;

-       Do our ‘approaching retirement” leaders really desire a personal legacy by having a General Obligation bond be part of the vote to allow them to build the courthouse before leaving office?

F.   PLANNING:

-       How much behind the scenes planning and politics have preceded this perceived rush for a new Courthouse?

-       Do we want the same leaders planning the courthouse that located a $1-2 Million Farmington Fire Stationon a single lane country road out of sight of taxpayers and hard to access?

9-27-13 Farmington, GA, has new Landmark- a ‘State of the Art’ Fire Station

        http://www.avoc.info/info/article.php?article=4265

Old Farmington Road Looking North –Fire Station on Left

G.   SPLOST PROJECTS:

-    Many county roads remain subpar for the population, and age in which we live:   a number need long-range planning and improvement: i. e.; Colham Ferry Rd is narrow and substandard; Hog Mountain Rd from Butler’s Crossing to US 441 is narrow and substandard; Hodges Mill Rd was built for farm-rural traffic of the 50’s; and there are many others throughout the county;

.-       It is hard to make mistakes on road and infrastructure improvementsso they may last longer than our “so-called 50 year projects”;

-       SPLOST was created by the Legislature in the 80’s to help local governments provide for infrastructure and capital project needs but seems to many to have become a SLUSH FUND for local officials with large egos and  lack of vision;

-     Oconee County has considerable needs that rank higher in priority than a $25 Million Courthouse; i.e. Roads, Bridges, Water lines in areas needing more fire plugs and protection; expansion of sewer capacity


The links in this story go to Wendell Dawson's blog, Another Voice from Oconee County.


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