Mayor’s Proposed Budget heads to Hiawassee City Council

News, Politics

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Council is due to vote on the City’s 2018-2019 budget Tuesday, Oct. 2, following a public hearing held Monday, Sept. 24.

Preceding a line-by-line discussion of the proposed budget, Hiawassee City Council adopted the rollback rate of 2.170 mills in a 3-1 vote. Council members Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, and Nancy Noblet favored the rollback, with Councilwoman Anne Mitchell solely opposing the reduced tax.

Patsy Owens

Councilwoman Patsy Owens

Councilwoman Patsy Owens was absent from the meeting, reported by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales to be traveling.

Owens, however, along with Mitchell, rejected the property tax rollback earlier this month, favoring what would have amounted to a tax increase for city property owners.

Concerning the budget, generated revenue applied toward the General Fund is expected to amount to $798,830, an increase of slightly over $33,300 from the previous fiscal year. The rise is due in part to the collection of an anticipated $70,000 in franchise fees imposed on Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation, which in turn has been passed along to customers.

General Expenses are expected to total $544,780, leaving the General Fund with a surplus in excess of $254,000.
Income derived from the Hotel-Motel Tax is listed at $85,000, with outgoing expenses to Towns County Chamber of Commerce, the Tax Commissioner, and local tourism payments, setting that particular budget flush.

SPLOST income is null as it it is non-existent.

The Sewer and Water Treatment Funds are expected to break even at $721,650 for Sewer, and $860,345 for Water Treatment.

Income toward the Water Fund is listed at $1,679,000, with expenses totaling $1,154,470. “This fund has a little bit more money so it’s not so bad,” Mayor Ordiales stated.

Funding for Hiawassee Police Department, however, is scant, with slightly over $177,000 anticipated in income, compared to $431,000 in necessary expenses. A citizen in attendance questioned Mayor Ordiales’ figures in relation to the surplus of finances applied to the General Fund. “You don’t want to use up that surplus,” Ordiales retorted, “What if something goes wrong?”

A total of $12,000 is listed for General Education and Training of City staff, a stark increase of $10,000 above the 2017-2018 initial proposal. Additional training for City Council remains fixed at $5,000.

Councilwoman Amy Barrett countered that line items within the budget were “freed up” the previous year, such as cuts to employee benefits, along with the addition of revenue derived from the franchise fee.

Amy Barrett Hiawassee

Councilwoman Amy Barrett

Furthermore, Barrett inquired into the $17,000 applied to City Hall communications, a $7,000 increase from the 2017-2018 initial budget proposal, separate from the mere $3,000 allotted for Hiawassee Police Department’s communication needs.

“We’re not here to argue,” Ordiales interjected, “It is what it is.”

Barrett noted the $9,000 listed to fund election costs, reminding that other than the Brunch Resolution set to appear on November’s ballot, an actual election is not scheduled to take place in 2018. Ordiales replied that it is wise to have a cushion in the event that a special election is necessary, should a council member decide to “quit.”

Hiawassee Council is scheduled to convene at City Hall at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 2, to accept or reject the mayor’s proposed budget.

Meetings are open to the public.

 

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Hiawassee City Council crushes Mayor’s tax increase, 3-2

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Council rejected what would have amounted to a property tax increase for city residents and businesses owners on the evening of Tuesday. Sept. 11, 2018, immediately following the third of three state-mandated public hearings.

proposal to maintain the current millage rate of 2.258, which would result in greater taxation due to heightened property assestments, was set forth by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales on Aug. 16.

Council members Anne Mitchell and Patsy Owens supported Ordiales’ tax increase, with Mitchell motioning and Owens quickly seconding.

Council members Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, and Nancy Noblet opposed the motion, rejecting the mayor’s incentives.

“I feel it’s crunch time for us instead of (the taxpayers),” Barrett expressed during the hearing.

Numerous citizens in attendance at the hearings, along with Barrett, Berrong, and Noblet, voiced concern for economically challenged residents within the community, stating that the increase could further affect their ability to adequately subsist. Barrett noted instances of known elderly residents on fixed incomes relocating elsewhere due to the BRMEMC franchise tax, an ordinance adopted by the city of Hiawasseee earlier this year, revealing that additional citizens have stated clear intent to vacate as well. Furthermore, Barrett and Noblet claimed that area businesses have vowed to relocate outside of city limits. Berrong previously relayed that he, too, has received ample objection to the advertised rejection of the reduced rollback rate.

Councilwoman Mitchell remained  uncharacteristically muted throughout the hearing, with Owens exclusively shaking her head “no” in obstinance to the concerns raised by the taxpayers in attendance.

Prior to the vote, Mayor Ordiales attempted to reason with citizens and council members, beginning with issues such as the estimated $4.5 million debt accrued, the need to repave roads, and ambition to supply annual three-percent employee raises as the logic behind the rollback rejection. Ordiales stressed the importance of continuing to fund Hiawassee Police Department as a final plea for acceptance. “Where am I going to cut?,” Ordiales asked, immediately prior to a brief recess between the public hearing and the council vote, “I can’t cut my salary anymore.”

Ordiales asserted that the increased 2018 tax digest was the result of $4.5 million in newly-assessed properties, and compared the millage rate of Hiawassee to surrounding municipalities. Out of 15 cities listed, with the exception of Blairsville, Hiawassee remains the lowest. Accepting the rollback rate of 2.170 mills will increase the city’s revenue by $2123, while the current rate of 2.258 mills would have provided slightly over $7000.

Ordiales encouraged the council to direct citizens to her office, should they harbor consternation.

Councilwoman Nancy Noblet publicly responded that many residents do not feel comfortable approaching Ordiales with issues of importance, as they have allegedly reported feeling “bullied” by the mayor’s reproach, a concern raised during a live interview with Ordiales, aired by FYNTV.com prior to the mayoral election in 2017.

A final reading regarding the rejection of the tax increase is scheduled to occur during the upcoming Hiawassee Council work session on Sept. 24, at City Hall.

Feature Photo (L-R) Council members Patsy Owens, Nancy Noblet, Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, Anne Mitchell, and Mayor Liz Ordiales

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Towns, Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Mayor overrides ethics ordinance, board member equates GOP with Nazi Party

Investigative Report, News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee formally received recognition as a “City of Ethics” at a Georgia Municiple Association (GMA) conference in late June, attended by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales and Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick. Shortly thereafter, FetchYourNews (FYN) reported on the city’s award, which stemmed from a 2016 ethics ordinance, and later adopted by current council.

Section 6 of the mandate states that a Board of Ethics shall be appointed, consisting of three individuals who will serve as overseers of the city’s ethical conduct. The ordinance requires that one member is to be appointed by the mayor, one by the council, and a third in joint agreement of both the mayor and city council.

Violations of the ordinance can result in public reprimand, or a request for resignation, according to the decree.

Remarks made by a member selected to serve on the Board of Ethics, in conjunction with an executive decision to override the stipulations of the ordinance itself, has raised community concerns.

Hiawassee ethics

Section 6 of the Ethics Ordinance

FYN learned that applications to serve on the Board of Ethics were submitted by local residents LaJean Turner, Susan Phillips, and Leslie McPeak the previous year.

In an email to FYN, dated July 10, Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick stated that Mayor Ordiales believed that the former mayor had appointed McPeak, and that Ordiales had voted for Phillips, although Kendrick stated that it was unclear if Phillips was the council vote, or a combined appointment from both mayor and council. “Now that we have the designation, we will need to go through that process of appointing the committee again from the beginning,” Kendrick concluded.

Kendrick could not produce meeting minutes showing approval of an ethics committee.

Former city officials later attested that apppointment of an ethics board had, in fact, not taken place during their administration, with the three applicants themselves confirming that appointment to the positions had not occurred.

During the July 30 work session, Mayor Ordiales briefly touched on an ethics agenda item, presenting her Board selection of the three board members as a statement, rather than as a consideration before the council.

As last Monday’s work session neared its end, freshly-selected Board of Ethics member Leslie McPeak publicly voiced complaint of recent Republican run-off campaign signage placed on Hiawassee Town Square, along with opposition to a rally held by the Towns County GOP in July at the same location. In objection to the square being used for religious and political events, McPeak stated, “Not only the Democrat Party, but the Nazi Party.” McPeak attempted clarification by adding, “The government needs to be bi-partisan at all times.”

The remark, along with previous statements publicly vocalized by McPeak, begged the question of whether council members believe McPeak is the right fit to oversee the city’s code of conduct. At a Town Hall meeting in June, McPeak drew critisism from conservatives when the outspoken local business owner proclaimed that shops should serve customers on Sundays, later adding that North Georgia should work toward removing its “Bible Belt stigma.”

FYN met with Mayor Ordiales on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 2, to gain further insight into her decision to select the chosen individuals to serve as the morality monitors of the city government

In a recorded conversation, Ordiales explained that the ethics ordinance was originally passed in 2016 by the former administration, and that the application for recognition through GMA had not been submitted at that time. “I wanted to start the process again because I believe in what (GMA) stands for, what we stand for, as being a City of Ethics is very important, and that we should absolutely try to enforce it,” Ordiales said, “Serve others and not themselves, put the citizens needs before anything, I mean, there’s a list of them.”

Hiawassee City Hall

Code of Ethics

FYN asked if the decision to appoint Turner, Phillips, and McPeak had been approved by the former council, in which Ordiales responded, “Absolutely.” After learning that former Hiawassee officials had no recollection of any agreement on ethics board appointees, Ordiales responded, “It was their administration, not mine. That’s on them.” Ordiales served as a council member during the period in question.

FYN pressed as to whether the mayor planned to seek approval from current council members on the individuals selected to serve on the ethics board, given the stipulations of the ordinance. “I think we’ve talked about it at work sessions, at city council meetings, and none of the current council has any problem with it. I’ve not been notified that they have an issue with it. Let’s rock on,” Ordiales asserted. FYN inquired as to whether the decree itself would be altered, considering that the terms of the committee appointment process were violated. “That’s pretty much a standard ordinance that GMA puts out, that you should follow. I don’t think you have the option of saying, ‘hey, we’re not going to do it.’ It’s their standard,” Ordiales contradicted.

FYN provided Mayor Ordiales with an additional opportunity to respond via email, along with council members, on Aug. 4.

“Since the paperwork and process was not followed by the prior leadership, we were never awarded the designation. When I took office, I wanted to ensure that we became a certified City of Ethics, and followed the proper processes,” Ordiales wrote, “The three previously selected individuals never got a chance to serve the community as they volunteered to do, since the designation was never awarded. I simply afforded them that opportunity. I presented to the council, and verified that these candidates were still, indeed, interested in being part of this process. The council is aware of these selections, and had no objection to these selections.”

In turn, Hiawassee Councilwoman Anne Mitchell responded by email to FYN’s request for comment.

“It was discussed in a council work session (when, I do not remember) and none of us had any issue with any of the three at that time,” Councilwoman Anne Mitchell emphasized, “THAT is direct input! Do you think it really makes a difference that an “appointed by” name wasn’t attached to each candidate? It might if there were twenty vying for the position, or if there was dissention among the council, but there wasn’t. It was brought up at the July 30 work session as a reminder that we ARE a city of ethics, and we DO have an ethics committee, and who those members are. Mrs. Turner, Ms. Phillips, and Ms. McPeak were agreed to, not by just the mayor, but by the council.”

Two additional council members replied to FYN’s request for clarity, stating that they had not been made aware of the the individuals who sought to serve upon the ethics board prior to Monday’s meeting, nor had they been given an option of favoring or opposing the mayor’s committee selection.

In understanding that the terms of the mandate had been breeched, the two responding council members avowed objection to the overriding measure taken. It is unknown at the time of publication where the two remaining council members stand on the issue.

The responding council members, nor the mayor, commented on McPeak’s remarks.

Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to convene for their regular monthly session on Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 6:00 p.m.

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Councilwoman proposes citywide plastic bag ban, five-cent fee

News, Politics
City of Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. –  With progressive, environmentally conscious Starbucks vowing to eliminate plastic straws from their 28,000 chains by 2020, a local leader strives to make progress of her own.

Hiawassee City Council convened for their monthly work session on Monday, July 30, and an item listed on the agenda contained a council member’s concern for the local environment.

Hiawassee Councilwoman Anne Mitchell proposed a citywide ban on plastic bags, or rather, a five-cent bag fee to reduce the volume of waste, charged to consumers via local merchants.

In an email circulated among council members prior to the work session, Mitchell stated her case.

“My proposal is that we, the city of Hiawassee, adopt a resolution that will put the responsibility where it belongs, and give folks the option of cooperating or paying. We would have to educate our citizens to the notion of supplying their own carry bags or paying for the plastic (or paper) bags if they are unwilling to bring their own,” Mitchell wrote, “Many governments have recognized the problem and have stepped up to create incentives to deal with it. Australia has banned the use of single use plastic bags. California has done likewise. Switzerland has them, but they cost five cents each, and so you carry your own bag or pay.”

Anne Mitchell

Hiawassee Council members Kris Berrong and Anne Mitchell at a previous council session

Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett attended Monday’s meeting prepared, armed with information to counter Mitchell’s proposal. Barrett relayed a barrage of information during the session, in opposition of Mitchell’s proposal. While Barrett conveyed that she, too, cares for the health of the environment, and believes Mitchell’s heart is in the right place, Barrett did not support the drastic measure proposed by Mitchell.

Barrett spoke with FYN post-session, and upon request, Barrett provided the “Learn the Facts” document that she had downloaded. The information which Barrett presented before the council claimed that alternatives which seem “greener” actually place a greater burden on the environment because they require more natural resources to produce and transport. The research states that ban and tax ordinances have never been successful at substantially reducing litter, waste, or marine debris. “What they have been shown to do is heap unfair costs on low and fixed-income families, and add more red tape to local businesses. The environment doesn’t benefit, and neither do people,” the study asserts.

“It isn’t the bags that are the problem,” Barrett told FYN, “Anything can be turned into litter. The issue is a lack of personal responsibility.”

In turn, Hiawassee Councilwoman Nancy Noblet, owner of local Noblet’s 5 & 10, objected to Mitchell’s proposal during the work session, saying that she is personally unwilling to charge customers for bags to carry their purchases.

“There will undoubtedly be weeping and wailing from customers and businesses alike. Change is like that. But if we initiate this, we can get a jump on what is bound to happen sooner or later. I vote for sooner. I would like to be at the head of the line instead of trailing along behind,” Mitchell proposed in the pre-session email, “Last week Starbucks announced that it was doing away with plastic straws in their stores worldwide. McDonalds is doing the same in many countries, U.S. included.”

Mitchell referenced litter clean-up initiatives within the county, and along the shoreline of Lake Chatuge. “This is a wonderful initiative by citizens, but it puts the responsibility on volunteers who probably wouldn’t throw out a gum wrapper,” Mitchell opinionated.

Council members Kris Berrong and Patsy Owens did not offer input on the proposal during the work session.

City Attorney Thomas Mitchell informed those in attendance that the city of Athens, Georgia, is in the process of potentially enacting a ban on plastic bags, and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales told FYN the following day that she believes Hiawassee should follow Athens lead, and educate the public. Ordiales stated that the city of Hiawassee is currently not in a position to fully take on the matter, however.

In 2015, Georgia’s House narrowly rejected legislation that would prohibit cities and towns from restricting plastic bags and other “auxiliary containers.” Senate Bill 139 failed by a 85-67 vote that divided House Republicans.

At the time of publication, it is unknown whether a plastic bag ban, or fee, will appear on a future council agenda.

FYN intends to monitor developments.

Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Towns, Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Hayesville Mayor Harry Baughn visits Hiawassee

News, Politics
Mayor Harry Baughn

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hayesville Mayor Harry Baughn was invited to address the Mountain Movers and Shakers on the morning of Friday, July 13, and the city official cited several similarities between Hayesviile and Hiawassee. Situated north of Towns County, Hayesville is the county seat of Clay County, North Carolina.

Elected in 2013, Baughn is serving his second-term in office, and says he believes he will be able to accomplish his goals within the next three-and-a-half years, with no plans to run for a third-term seat.

“Our towns are comparable,” Baughn began, “We each have our own specialties, and our own wonderful places to be. Hiawassee has Music on the Square one night, and we have Music on the Square another night, so we do have some similar things.”

Baughn said one of his proudest accomplishments since election was the construction of public restrooms. “One of the first things I did after taking office – and it’s probably going to be my legacy – was building a set of public restrooms. That has been a big deal in downtown Hayesville. It is right next door to town hall.” Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, who did not attend Friday’s forum, voiced ambition for public restrooms at a city council meeting months prior.

Baughn spoke of the importance of “walkability” in small towns, describing the placement of sidewalks in Hayesville, and the necessity of sufficient parking. Baughn said that an additional 24 parking spaces were recently added to downtown Hayesville, and the City of Hayesville partnered with business owners to replace worn awnings on storefronts to make the ambiance more appealing.

“Business development, the other important thing in small town survivalability,” Baughn stated, “We’ve been doing economic development during my administration, and we’ve gotten quite a number of new businesses downtown. If you’ve not been to the Valley River Brewery and Eatery, home of the famous wood-fired brick oven pizza, 15 craft brews – and right now is Wednesday, Wacky Wednesday – that you can get up to five toppings for $14.99, and I highly recommend the Mayor’s Pizza.” The crowd laughed in response.

Baughn continued, listing additional businesses that have opened in Hayesville within the past two years, such as a home décor shop, a children’s’ boutique, a computer repair store, a pet shop, and a tap house. The city official noted that Clay County Chamber of Commerce relocated to downtown Hayesville. Baughn included that a new Italian restaurant opened for business last week, and an additional restaurant and brewery plans to open its doors in August.

Baughn said that Hayesville hopes to gain an updated post office in the near future, which was a recent topic of discussion at a Hiawassee Town Hall meeting, designed for strategic city development planning. Baughn expressed hope of acquiring a recognizable “name brand hotel” in Clay County in order to to draw visitors to his town, claiming that many Hayesviile tourists choose to lodge in Hiawassee.

The mayor concluded by encouraging citizens to visit Clay County’s newly-renovated historic courthouse which towers above Hayesville’s town square. The majestic structure was originally constructed in 1888, and it functioned as the county courthouse until 2007. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 21.

“In addition to building the bathrooms, one of the things I’m proud of is wrestling (the courthouse) away from the county since they didn’t care about it,” Baughn revealed, “When they abandoned it, they needed to get rid of all of the wood in there because of the deterioration. When they took out the door frames and stuff, they weren’t really careful. I mean, they took sledgehammers, so basically there were round holes in the brick walls where there used to be doors. But at least they were willing. They deeded the courthouse and the square over to the town of Hayesville. It is leased to the CCCRA (Clay County Communities Revitalization Association) so that they could go after grant money.” Baughn explained the toiled effort involved in the restoration of the historic site, singing the praises of those who partook in process.

Hiawassee City Councilwoman Anne Mitchell, and Hiawssee Police Chief Paul Smith attended the Mountain Movers and Shakers meeting, held weekly at Sundance Grill.

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Hiawassee approves water line mapping project, property risk insurance, brunch resolution

News, Politics

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council convened for their regular monthly session on Tuesday, July 10, unanimously approving motions to venture forth on a water line mapping project, acceptance of a quote for property risk insurance, and in favor of an alcohol brunch resolution.

Property risk insurance quotes were presented by Timothy Barrett, owner of local Barrett and Associates Insurance, during the June 26 work session. Barrett, a partner with Gainesville’s Norton Agency, recommended a $36,133 quote with a two-year guarantee from Georgia InterLocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA). In comparison, Selective Insurance, the agency providing present coverage for the City of Hiawassee, offered a renewal rate in the amount of $42,796.

Council members Kris Berrong and Anne Mitchell

Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett, the wife of Timothy Barrett, avoided conflict of interest by exiting the session during the presentation and yesterday’s vote. Councilwoman Patsy Owens motioned, with Nancy Noblet seconding. Councilmembers Anne Mitchell and Kris Berrong voted in unified agreement.

Of note, Barrett and Associates were cited as selected several years prior to the election of Councilwoman Amy Barrett.

The water line mapping project was approved in the amount of $5,200. “It should be no more than $5,200,” Ordiales explained, “It was 44 (hundred dollars), but I forgot about the software that needs to be loaded into the computer so it will be no more than $5,200.”

Councilman Kris Berrong favored the motion, with Councilwoman Patsy Owens seconding. The three remaining council members unanimously supported the project.

A motion to approve the brunch resoluton which will permit residents to vote on November’s ballot as to whether to allow local establishments to serve alcohol on Sundays beginning at 11:30 a.m., rather than the current time of 12:30 p.m., was favored by the full Council. Councilwoman Anne Mitchell raised the motion, with Kris Berrong offering secondary approval.

Mayor Ordiales announced at the commencement of the session that she was proudly awarded “Citizen of the Year” by the Towns County-Lake Chatuge Rotary Club.

Old Business consisted of plans for the Moonshine Cruiz-In Festival “drive-in” movie presentation of the 1978 movie “Grease,” scheduled for Wednesday,  July 11, on Hiawassee Towns Square. The event will begin at 7:00 p.m. with a disc jockey providing music as the classic cars roll into town. The movie itself is scheduled for dusk.

The second annual Moonshine Cruiz-In Block Party luncheon will be held on Thursday, June 12, on the town square. Five food vendors are expected to participate, with local Cub Scouts selling beverages.

The Georgia Mountain Fair Parade float was briefly discussed, with Councilwoman Nancy Noblet offering to ride in the Saturday, July 21 procession as “Woodsy the Owl.”

Mayor Ordiales reminded that floor covering replacement is currently underway throughout the lower-level of Hiawassee City Hall, and proceeding on schedule.

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Hiawassee tree ordinance may cost private land owners

News
Hiawassee Tree Ordinance

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The City of Hiawassee has adopted yet another mandate, this time a tree ordinance which has the potential to impact the owners of private property. A “City Tree Board” has been appointed, and while the bulk of the responsibilities entrusted to the committee involves the cultivation and maintenance of trees located upon city property, the ordinance includes a clause pertaining to trees growing on privately-owned land.

Hiawassee town square

A maple tree, days before removal, which once stood on Hiawassee Square

The decree was brought to the attention of FetchYourNews (FYN) by a citizen at a recent town hall meeting. FYN filed an open record request with City Hall to review the ordinance, and spoke briefly with Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales on the morning of Thursday, June 21. Ordiales noted a massive, trimmed evergreen located on the county courthouse grounds as an example of the ordinance. “That’s what we don’t want,” Ordiales said, referring to resulting appearance from the tree-topping technique. While courthouse staff agreed the pine is unsightly, trimming was warranted years prior due to interference with overhanging electrical lines. A maple tree was recently removed from the southeast corner of Hiawassee Town Square after the tree was deemed dead, and according to Mayor Ordiales and Hiawassee Attorney Thomas Mitchell, allowing the tree to remain posed a liability risk to the city.

While the location of the removed maple was unquestionably on city grounds, listed among the regulations in the ordinance is a section entitled “Removal of Dead or Diseased Trees” which states:

“The city shall have the right to cause the removal of any dead or diseased trees on private property within the city, when such trees constitute a hazard to the persons and property, or harbor insects or disease which constitutes a potential threat to other trees within the city. The City Tree Board will notify in writing the owners of such trees. Removal shall be done by said owners at their own expense within sixty (60) days after the date of service of notice. In the event of failure of owners to comply with the provisions, the city shall have the authority to remove such trees and charge the cost of removal to the owners.”

The ordinance advances to declare that interference with the City Tree Board – on public or privately owned property – is unlawful, and violation of any provision within the mandate shall be subject to a fine “not to exceed one thousand dollars.”

Upkeep of trees on private property, which could endanger the public or impede access through city right-of-ways or streets, are listed in a separate segment of the decree.

The first reading of the ordinance was approved May 1, 2018, by Council members Anne Mitchell, Kris Berrong, Amy Barrett, and Nancy Noblet. Councilwoman Patsy Owens was absent from the meeting. “It basically says that we’ll have trees in Hiawassee, and that we’ll take care of them,” Mayor Ordiales alluded at the previous work session.

A finalized signature sheet is expected at the city’s monthly work session Tuesday, June 26, at 6:00 p.m. While said meetings typically fall on the last Monday of each month, the June session was rescheduled due to a training trip for city staff.

Meetings are open to the public.

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

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 received a $30,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant in 2017 to fund the study. Steering committees were chosen for the strategic planning endeavor, and previous meetings took place to gain insight.

Correction: While the City of Hiawassee quoted a flat “$30,000” when asked the ARC amount, FYN learned post-publication that $21,000 was awarded, with an additional $9,000 matched locally, for a grand total of $30,000.

“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

 

 

 

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Robin H. Webb

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