HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Councilwoman Nancy Noblet was sworn into office on the evening of Nov. 27 at Hiawassee City Hall. Although inauguration will not arrive until Jan. 2 for the remaining elected officials, Noblet is filling vacated Post 5, relinquished by Mayor-Elect Liz Ordiales.
Noblet told Fetch Your News she is happy to take her seat on the council. “I know I will never make everyone happy,” Noblet said, “but I will always try to do what’s best for the city.”
Old business included the announcement of Light Up Hiawassee, a Christmas celebration on the City Square, and unanimous council approval to include the Towns County Water Authority contract on next week’s regular meeting agenda for voting.
New business involved a decision to delay the adoption of a Tree City ordinance until liability concerns are addressed. According to Mayor Pro-Tem Ann Mitchell, Hiawassee has unofficially been a Tree City for 22 years, but an ordinance is required. City Attorney Thomas Mitchell says the adoption is expected to take place prior to Arbor Day, which falls on Feb. 16, 2018.
The speed zone ordinance was briefly discussed, with confirmation the Department of Transportation will not allow Hiawassee to change the speed limit on city streets.
A University of Georgia Vinson Council Retreat is scheduled for March 2-3, 2018. Planning retreats focus on issues such as goal-setting, conflict resolution, relationship building and communication with the media and citizens.
A public hearing regarding the controversial adoption of the city’s Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) franchise ordinance immediately followed the council’s work session. The upstairs meeting area was standing-room only, filled with citizens on both sides of the issue.
“Let’s be nice, ” Mayor Pro-Tem Mitchell began. “That is my expectation, that everyone plays nice.”
Josh Alexander was the first citizen to speak, stating that everyone wants to see the city grow, and BRMEMC has the right to pass the fee along. “I don’t think it’s fair to impose hardships, but I don’t think a dollar a week will impose hardships,” Alexander explained.
An average increase of $55 per year is expected, based on 897-kilowatt hours per residence, according to BRMEMC Director Roy Perren.
“(The estimate) is skewed low because of part-time residents,” Perren advised during a meeting held on Oct. 27, 2017.
Charles Nicholson, an opponent of the ordinance, disclosed he believes the decree will burden the disadvantaged citizens of Hiawassee, specifically the elderly and disabled. Nicholson went on to say he feels the mandate will be a disincentive for the businesses the city hopes to attract.
Nicholson inquired whether an established list of priorities exist for the funds the ordnance expects to generate.
“Off the top of my head, no,” Mayor Pro-Tem Mitchell replied, stating the Council has been in suspended animation. “We have a lot of plans to go forward, but the answer is no.” Mitchell later reminded the citizens the infrastructure is of utmost concern.
Mayor-Elect Liz Ordiales interjected that a new revenue stream is necessary due to the loss of SPLOST funding, adding, “The general fund is never positive. Never.”
Councilwoman Nancy Noblet asked how Hiawassee has survived all these years without an increase, expressing concern for residents on a fixed income. “Yes, it will hurt them,” Noblet asserted.
Resident Vince Cooper countered that revenue must come from somewhere, saying, “We’re losing growth, not gaining ground.”
Chatuge Regional Hospital Chief Executive Officer Lewis Kelley requested to speak, estimating the ordinance will burden the hospital and nursing home with a raised cost of $9,686 per year, referring to the mandate as a tax before being corrected by acting-Mayor Mitchell. “It is a fee,” the Pro-Tem emended.
Lynn McPeak, owner of TATA on Main, offered an emotional stance, explaining there are programs available for people unable to afford the additional line item. “It’s time to step forward and begin to progress,” McPeak said.
City churches and county entities are not exempt from the ordinance. Concerns were raised as to whether the mandate will effect business prices, Ingles in particular.
Mayor-Elect Liz Ordiales stated discussions with BRMEMC Director Jeremy Nelms are ongoing, saying she believes the company will accept the ordinance once it is rewritten to their satisfaction.
Nelms addressed the issue at the first open BRMEMC meeting on Nov. 16, maintaining his position will continue to stand that the decree is unenforceable. “EMC position remains that this ordinance is invalid since it requires the EMC to accept the terms and it also has the incorrect date,” the posted agenda read. Nelms said he has spoken with Ordiales, saying, “I’m sure she and I will spend more time discussing it.”
Hiawassee City Council convenes for their regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. at City Hall. All sessions are open to to the public, with the exception of executive meetings.
Fetch Your News has published the 2018 Meeting dates and City Holiday closings.
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