Hiawassee holds Town Hall to strategically shape city’s future

News
Hiawassee City Hall

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Dozens of community members and government officials gathered at the Towns County Civic Center on the evening of Tuesday, June 12, to discuss their visions for Hiawassee’s future. The City of Hiawassee has been working closely with the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia, which assists state and local governments in achieving goals. Hiawassee receieved a $30,000 Appalachian Regional Commission grant in 2017 to fund the study. Steering committees were chosen for the strategic planning endeavor, and previous meetings took place to gain insight.

“When we first got the grant, the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute was not available, and I really wanted to use the University of Georgia Carl Vinson Institute because these guys are masters,” Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales said, “They know how to do this, they’ve done this in a million different cities. They know what’s going on, and the intent of this is for us, and you more than anything, to define what we want our city to look like. We don’t want it to be Helen. We don’t want it to be any city in Florida. We don’t want it to be Asheville. We don’t want it to be anything but Hiawassee, but we don’t know what that is. So that’s what this strategic plan is all about.”

Many in attendence praised Mayor Ordiales, with some referring to the elected offical as “progressive-minded.”

Table-top discussion groups were formed prior to the start of the meeting, and ideas were projected onto a screen from laptop computers.

HIawassee strategic planning

The community was divided into six groups

Listed among what is “working” in Hiawassee’s favor was appreciation for local shops, commendation of Hiawassee Police Department, the seasonal events on town square, access to reliable contractors, and the overall “quality of life” in the mountains.

Suggested improvements included an updated courthouse and post office, extended beautification efforts, the need for year-round activities, the creation of a city that will beckon visitors, a liquor store to raise revenue, the necessity for affordable housing, activities geared toward youth, improved public parking, and easily accessible recycling areas.

City annexation was noted, as well as hope for increased cultural diversity, public art displays, replacement of “tacky signs” to give the city a uniformed appearance, and a desire to deviate from a “Bible-Belt” stigma.

When asked to describe Hiawassee, some chose adjectives such as “quiet,” “charming,” and “quaint” while others described the city as “outdated” and “stuck.”

Hiawassee Councilwoman Nancy Noblet said she hopes the city will grow to become more than a retirement community. Councilwoman Amy Barrett expressed appreciation for tradition. Councilwoman Anne Mitchell used the word “bustling” to invoke her vision for the city’s future.

Carl Vinson Project Manager Jessica Varsa led the meeting, with the assistance of colleauges from the institute. Varsa relayed that another forum may take place next month, with efforts expected to wrap up in November.

“I want to see the city grow, but I also want it to remain a small-town because it’s home,” said Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, a planning committee member.

Hiawassee Council members Patsy Owens and Kris Berrong attended the forum.

Feature Photo: (L-R) Hiawassee Councilwoman Patsy Owens and Mayor Liz Ordiales

 

 

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

City of Hiawassee updates Flicks on the Square, adopts water leak protection plan

News, Politics
Liz Ordiales

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council met for their regular session May 1, 2018.

New hours of operation were set  for Hiawassee City Hall, with doors open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales updated the public on Flicks on the Square, an outdoor, weekly movie night that is scheduled to begin after dark Friday, May 25.

(Correction: Showings have since been changed to twice per month rather than weekly.)

Referring to the associated cost of the project mentioned at last week’s work session, Ordiales explained her original quote was underestimated. “I had originally put down there $3,000. It’s really going to be $3,416 because the original quote of $2,899, the speakers were too small for that area. So when we upped the speakers a little bit, it was $3,416,” Ordiales explained.

Mayor Ordiales said that the “good news” is that she has learned Towns County Library owns licensing rights to many movies until March 2019, and plans to allow the city of Hiawassee to borrow their agreement at no charge.

“I’d like to see if we can have a classic movie night maybe once a month, with like Casablanca and that kind of stuff,” Ordiales said.

Councilwoman Amy Barrett suggested inviting non-profit organizations to sell popcorn. There will be no admission charge to attend movie nights on the square.

Councilwoman Amy Barrett at January’s work session

The motion to adopt Flicks on the Square was unanimously approved by the council.

A motion to streamline future consent agendas, with the financials and minutes consolidated into a single, swift vote, was motioned by Councilwoman Nancy Noblet, and seconded by Councilwoman  Anne Mitchell. The idea was raised by Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick at the conclusion of April’s work session.

The ServLine water leak protection policy was adopted, motioned by Councilman Kris Berrong, and seconded by Councilwoman Nancy Noblet.

A motion to sign a formal contract with the current municipal court probation services was unanimously favored, and the first reading of the Hiawassee tree ordinance was approved.

“It basically says that we’ll have trees in Hiawassee, and that we’ll take care of them,” Ordiales noted at the previous work session.

An eligibility application with Georgia Surplus was unanimously approved.

“This is a contract that (Hiawassee Police Chief) Paul (Smith) found for us that will allow us to purchase items from the police department, the Army, the Navy, any type of government entity,” Ordiales said. “You can buy equipment for pennies on the dollar. When I was the president of the Fire Corps, we bought a Hummer for the Fire Corps, and they put a pump on the back of the Hummer that went into the woods, and all kinds of things like that, for 50 bucks. All we had to do was change the color. So, I brought this over here so that we can get this option. Maybe we can buy some tractors, or maybe we can buy some equipment for the water department.”

The second reading of the elected-official pay scale was approved, as well as the first reading of the benefit retirement plan. Ordiales says the new plan will freeze the policy that has been in place, in favor of 3 percent contribution from the city, zero percent from the employee. The previous plan garnered 11 percent from the city, and zero percent from the employee.

All council members were in attendance, with the exception of Patsy Owens.

 

Featured Photo: Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales

 

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

City of Hiawassee audited, multiple ordinances adopted

News, Politics
City of Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council convened with an unlisted agenda visit from Ed Burton, an auditor with Strickland and Associates, during their regular monthly meeting March 6, 2018.

Citizen turnout was sparse in comparison to recently held sessions.

The audit examined the previous year’s finances, concluding June 30, 2017. Current Mayor Liz Ordiales, Anne Mitchell, and Kris Berrong served on the council during the examined fiscal frame. In addition, newly elected council members Amy Barrett, Nancy Noblet, and Patsy Owens were present at Tuesday’s assembly.

“Debt went up, but assets did too,” Burton announced during his presentation conducted while facing the council. The auditor proceeded to relay his findings before the elected officials, explaining they are based on government-wide standards. Burton noted the increase in assets were the result of grants and heightened service charges, in combination with increased fines and forfeitures.

The audit shows a $121,554 increase in water charges, coupled with an elevation of $54,860 in fines and forfeitures. Legal fees were significantly higher in the general fund, with total professional in general government up $59,144.

The audit states the city of Hiawassee should be vigilant in continuing to raise water rates as needed, while cutting expenses where possible.

Revenues expanded due to increased water charges, along with a $157,623 grant for forgiveness of debt on a project related to water meters. Liabilities rose due to the net Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loan which replaced city water meters, while lessened as the result of a decrease in pension liability.

Burton specifically noted a department level “over-run” related to the purchase of a Hiawassee Police Department patrol vehicle. Although the city of Hiawassee had enough in the general fund to cover the expense, it was not allotted for public safety. Georgia law requires for budgets to be adopted at the department level, stating that expenditures must be spent in compliance.

As the accountant concluded his findings, Mayor Liz Ordiales, who was elected to the council in late 2015 and selected to serve as mayor pro-tem in early 2017, reminded the three newly elected council members that former Hiawassee Mayor Barbara Mathis and former Hiawassee City Manager Rick Stancil were also in office during the fiscal year in review.

The full council proceeded to sign the recently adopted “City of Ethics” resolution.

The motel-hotel mandate was unanimously favored, allotting Hiawassee with 60 percent of the tax revenue, which was once applied in its entirety to the Towns County Chamber of Commerce.

The Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) franchise ordinance passed unopposed with longtime proponent Anne Mitchell motioning, followed by newly sworn Patsy Owens seconding the decree.

A motion for a two-year landscape contract with Mountain Living was approved in the annual amount of $9,225. Out of seven bids, Mountain Living was cited as the lowest.

Although an executive session was listed on the agenda, Mayor Liz Ordiales opted out, stating it is systematically added under the advisement of City Attorney Thomas Mitchell. Attorney Mitchell was not in attendance at Tuesday’s session.

The meeting adjourned “in a record-breaking 22 minutes,” according to Mayor Ordiales.

The 2016-17 audit and city ordinances are available for public review in their entirety at Hiawassee City Hall.

Hiawassee City Council meets for their monthly work session on the last Monday of each month at 6 p.m. The regular sessions are conducted the following Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Both take place at Hiawassee City Hall and are open to the public.

 

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Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Anne Mitchell to Serve as Hiawassee Mayor Pro Tem

News, Politics
Anne Mitchell

Hiawassee, GA – Hiawassee City Council unanimously selected Councilwoman Anne Mitchell to serve as Mayor Pro Tem during a Special Called segment of Monday’s Work Session.

Councilman Kris Berrong, owner of Berrong’s Barbershop, stepped down from the position, citing incapacity to devote a full time presence at City Hall.

According to Berrong, the citizens of Hiawassee require someone who is readily available during City Hall’s business hours.

The councilman tells FYN he has confidence in Mitchell’s ability to handle the multiple responsibilities the position entails.

Councilwoman Rayette Ross explained considerable thought and planning went toward the decision. “Anne has never missed a meeting and she’s shown a lot of dedication,” Ross stated.

Mayor Pro Tem Anne Mitchell assured the community she will do her best.

Attendees expressed their approval with applause.

Anne Mitchell is expected to remain Hiawassee Mayor Pro Tem until a Mayoral candidate is elected in November.

The Work Session began with an update on the water leak study, a service provided at no charge by Matchpoint Inc. Approximately 45 miles of underground water lines were inspected and 11 minor leaks were detected.

Mayors’ Park was discussed, recapping the dedication ceremony which took place on August 14. An estimated 100 people were said to have attended, including the family of Pastor Harold Ledford, the park’s honoree. Harold Ledford served as pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church for 30 years and was well loved by the community. Pastor Ledford passed away on February 11, 2017.

The decision of whether to hire John Andrews, a retired architect, as project manager to complete the construction of Mayors’ Park was suspended for the time being. Council members suggested extending an invitation for Mr. Andrews to address the Board at next week’s regular monthly meeting.

Restrooms, picnic tables, a dog park, and a pier are expected to be added to the already popular recreational area.

The meeting concluded with the decision to place the potential implementation of an educational program on hold until November. Liz Ordiales, former Hiawassee Mayor Pro Tem and current Mayoral candidate, previously suggested a program designed for high school seniors and recent graduates to learn skills relevant to the travel/tourism and healthcare professions prevalent in the region. Discussion with Dr. Darren Berrong, Superintendent of Towns County’s Board of Education, appear to be ongoing.

Hiawassee City Council will meet for their regular monthly session at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, September 5, at City Hall.

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

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