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In a rare joint meeting, the Oconee Board of Education and Board of Commissioners met last Wednesday to discuss issues that impact both local governing bodies.

Northeast Georgia Regional Educational Service Agency director Keith Everson served as facilitator, although his comments were limited mostly to the transition of topics from organizational structure, the budget process and strategic planning.

“You all should be commended for getting together like this,” he said. “It sends a strong message to the community that y’all are coming together.”

Oconee County Schools Superintendent Jason Branch said enrolment growth was between 3 and 3 and a half percent prior to the pandemic. It was close to flat last year and 2 percent this year.

The range of 3-5 percent annual enrollment growth is manageable, he explained. However, school board members expressed concern over dormant or new housing projects that could lead to a higher difficulty of meeting infrastructure needs.

Board of Education member Tim Burgess asked the commissioners how they plan to manage residential growth. The conversation gravitated toward the not-yet-built-out Parkside subdivision, which will encircle Northwest Woods with entrances off Hog Mountain Road, as well as Westland off U.S. 78 and adjacent to Bethabara Baptist Church.

In 2018, the BOC approved a legal settlement with the developers of the two subdivisions after previously refunding their sewer capacity fees.

The lawsuit resulted in Parkside reducing its number of lots from 810 to 776, and Westland jettisoning attached residential units.

Commissioner Mark Thomas noted that the developments have reclassified hundreds of units as exclusively senior living. A combined 334 traditional lots were either eliminated from the two developments or converted into age-restricted lots.

“That’s a huge reduction,” said Thomas. “That makes a big difference.”

Westland is almost at the point of pulling permits but still needs to finish some road improvements, said county officials.

“We’ve held them off a long time,” said Commissioner Chuck Horton. 

For more on this story, see the Oct. 7 edition of The Oconee Enterprise, on sale now at convenience stores and grocery stores and newspaper boxes throughout Oconee County. To subscribe, call (706) 769-5175 or visit the tab on our website. 

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