HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales updated the community at the opening of the monthly work session on Monday, Aug. 27, at City Hall. Mayor Ordiales began by presenting photographs of the water treatment plant, pointing out algae growing on the side walls. “It’s clean water, but it’s just got algae that’s growing on it,” Ordiales stated.
Ordiales said that the algae is currently being removed manually with buckets once a month during the summer, and once a roof is placed on the basin, the issue should be solved. Ordiales relayed that the city of Hiawassee is working with the state Environmental Protection Division.
In reference to the city’s tree ordinance, Ordiales displayed a photograph of a tree on Oakmont Drive in Hiawassee that was removed by Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) due to limbs falling onto the roadway, and according to Ordiales, in danger of damaging a nearby building, and possibly an electric transformer.
“We are finally to the point where we can install new fire hydrants. We fixed all the ones that were broken,” Ordiales continued, explaining the process of installation to the council and citizens.
Mayor Ordiales announced her appointment to the University of Georgia-Georgia Municipal Association Training Board, a four-year term in which Ordiales will serve with the Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute.
Although enough petition signatures were not collected in time to place the referendum on the November ballot, Ordiales advised the council to begin thinking about package store guidelines, as the mayor believes enough support will be garnered in the future.
Hiawassee received a $3000 grant from Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) for safety equipment, and the funds were applied to purchasing hard hats, gas detectors, traffic cones, and traffic vests for the Hiawassee Police Department. Ordiales informed that the grant can be applied for annually, and Hiawassee plans to take advantage of the funds. “It doesn’t cost us anything, and they come and deliver the check,” the mayor explained.
Furthermore, Hiawassee was awarded a grant by the Georgia Department of Transportation for over $19,000, in conjunction with approximately $17,000 received the previous year, and Ordiales relayed that the grant will be used to repave heavily-potholed Tater Ridge Drive.
Ordiales reminded that the last performance of Enchanted Music on the Square will take place on Saturday, Sept. 1, and noted the large turnout of music lovers at the previous weekend concert.
A Hometown Connection meeting was held on the morning of the work session with GMA to discuss the upcoming legislation session. State Senator John Wilkinson, Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby, Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Union County Commissioner Lamar Paris, and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales attended the forum.
The mayor was scheduled to meet for a site visit with Department of Community Affairs the following day, Tuesday, Aug. 28, to discuss the PlanFirst Program, which assists with local planning and implementation. Ordiales explained that a tour of Hamilton Gardens, Bell Mountain, Mayors’ Park, and the Old Rock Jail Museum would be on the itinerary with the panel. According to the government website, PlanFirst recognizes and rewards communities which clearly demonstrate an established pattern of successfully implementing a Local Comprehensive Plan.
Following a proposal by Councilwoman Anne Mitchell to ban plastic bags citywide during the July work session, Ordiales made mention of a recent news article on Kroger grocery decision to remove plastic bags from their stores, and believes that other grocers, in time, will follow suit.
A reminder of the upcoming property tax increase hearings was noted, and the city council agreed that the annual Halloween event on Hiawassee Town Square will occur on Halloween evening, Wednesday, Oct. 31.
The 2018-2019 budget is expected to discussed on Sept. 24, at the monthly work session. Rather than review the financial plan line-by-line as originally announced, due to the reasoning that the council has copies of the proposal to analyze, Mayor Ordiales stated that the major line items will be solely considered.
Mayor Ordiales announced a decision to change auditors, switching to a firm based in Gainesville at an estimated cost of $15,000 per year. Ordiales stated that quotes were sought from two additional auditing firms, and that GMA advised changing auditors every three-to-five years.
Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith delivered a department activity review during the work session.
A citizen concern regarding trash in a business parking lot was briefly discussed.
The full council was in attendance, as well as City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick, and City Attorney Thomas Mitchell.
UPDATED: Mayor Ordiales announced the payoff of a second USDA loan in the amount of $120,227, the result of a 1989 loan of $232,000, at five-percent interest rate. The decision will save city taxpayers approximately $38,000 in interest.
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.
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.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – “Flicks on the Square” premiered in the heart of Hiawassee on the evening of May 25, 2018. Although storm clouds loomed above, the weather cooperated with what Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales called an historic event.
The first movie presented was Ferdinand, an animated film about a young bull who flees from a training camp in Spain after his father fails to return from a duel with a matador.
The fun began at 7 p.m. with children tossing frisbees, footballs, and frolicking on the square grounds. Families settled along Berrong Street, which was closed to traffic, to watch the show.
Towns County Library Branch Manager Debbie Phillips manned the popcorn stand, accompanied by members of the Towns County School football team, who sold candy bars to raise funds for needed equipment. The movie began at dusk, once the viewing screen was inflated. Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith assisted the set-up crew.
Seth Solesbee, manager of Goin’ Postal, passed out raffle tickets for toys to the children.
“I think it’s time to get some youth on the square, and get some families out here, having a good time, and enjoying our city. I think this is a good start. Everyone loves movies, and we’re trying to target the kids,” Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales told FetchYourNews. “It’s all about the kids, and all about the families, and that’s why we’re here.” Ordiales added that a classic movie, geared toward an older audience, may be scheduled.
Claire Wells, a Hiawassee resident who moved to the mountains several years prior, brought her father and two daughters along to watch the show. “I think this was a really good idea. It gives young people something to do, and it’s free, which is always nice,” Wells chimed. “We love Hiawassee. It’s a safe town, and we don’t have to worry. There’s clean air, fresh water, it’s the best place on earth to be.” Wells also noted her appreciation of newly-installed WiFi on the town’s square.
“We love doing this because it doesn’t just cater to one small population,” Hiawassee City Councilwoman Amy Barrett said. “It targets everybody, and that’s great because that’s what we want to do. We want to cater to everyone and give them something fun to do on a Friday night.”
The next movie, Early Man, will be shown Friday, June 8, followed by Storks Friday, June 22. A full summer line-up is available on the rear of the Appalachian Trail map on Hiawassee Town Square.
YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – Clean Sweep week proved to be a success, resulting in a cleaner environment for Towns County. The annual event took place from April 16 through 21, corresponding with Earth Day.
Volunteers donated their time by clearing the roadways of litter and attending a gratitude dinner hosted by Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw April 24, 2018, at the Towns County Recreation Center. Pizza and soft drinks were served, complements of the commission’s office.
J.C. Berrong promoted and organized the Clean Sweep week. Commissioner Bradshaw honored Berrong with a certificate of appreciation for his dedicated service.
Cash prizes of $200 were awarded in three categories for the most trash collected by an individual, a church or business, and a club or organization.
Henry Chambers, who yielded the largest amount in the individual category, along with the City of Hiawassee, who joined in effort with Hamilton Gardens, donated their prizes to the local Boy Scouts.
Featured photo: J.C. Berrong
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HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Police Department announced a “new low” in felony drug arrests, and the suspected reason for the decline is surprising.
According to Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, word of his department’s vigilance has spread, and individuals possessing illicit substances may be traveling an alternate route to evade city law enforcement.
During Hiawassee City Council’s regular session on Tuesday, April 3, Chief Smith recalled an incident involving a drug-related arrest. Smith stated that the suspect readily admitted that he should have avoided Hiawassee, specifically mentioning Highway 288 as the passage the driver divulged should have been chosen instead.
Highway 288, also known as Sunnyside Road, winds south of Hiawassee’s perimeter, beyond the city police department’s jurisdiction.
In comparison to the first three months of the previous year, 2018 has witnessed a noticeable decrease in the number of drug arrests conducted by Hiawassee Police Department.
From January until March of 2017, nine misdemeanor drug arrests and 17 felony drug arrests took place. The current year-to-date statistics show only two misdemeanor drug arrests, along with eight felony drug charges.
“There was another person that let us look through their phone after we arrested them, giving us consent to search their device,” Chief Smith disclosed in an interview with FetchYourNews (FYN). “Someone had messaged them, saying something along the lines of, ‘Why did you go through Hiawassee?'”
A patrol officer with the Hiawassee Police Department relayed that, he too, has heard rumors of Highway 288 being the preferred course of travel for perpetrators hoping to avoid city law enforcement.
The majority of drug arrests occurring within the city limits of Hiawassee are the result of traffic stops initiated for citation-related offenses, such as speeding or improper vehicle requirements.
FYN contacted Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton for his thoughts on the theory that drug offenders are skirting Hiawassee in favor of Highway 288, a route which falls under his department’s jurisdiction.
“I am unaware of any official statement by the City of Hiawassee making such a claim. My office has received no criminal intelligence, much less evidence, of any such criminal methodology,” Sheriff Clinton stated via email.
In contrast to 2017 data, Hiawassee Police Department’s self-initiated reports have decreased by 25 percent this year. The agency has seen a 40 percent increase in dispatched calls, however, in the first quarter of 2018.
Hiawassee Police Department has generated a total of 868 case numbers in the past three months. The amount is a combination of traffic stops, citations, and calls for service.
HIAWASSEE, GA – The City of Hiawassee will host its annual Halloween celebration this evening from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. on the Square. Traffic will be diverted clockwise from Main Street in order to protect the safety of ghosts and goblins and maintain a productive flow.
Featured Image: Towns County Fire and Rescue with “witch”, Halloween 2016
Barbara Mathis has been a dedicated elected official of the City of Hiawassee since the
1990’s and Mayor since 1996. She has decided for various personal reasons to retire before her
term ends in December of this year. As Mayor Mathis was considering retirement, the City
discovered that certain procedural errors may have been made related to the method used for the
official approval of the Mayor’s compensation and the addition of the Mayor to the City’s
retirement plan. The City’s retirement plan documents needed to be amended to properly
include the Mayor as a participant. The City made regular contributions to the plan on behalf of
the Mayor and the amendment was simply to bring the language of the plan into conformity with
the reality of the City’s actions and intent. The City adopted the necessary amendments to the
retirement plan at its regular April meeting.
between Mayor Mathis and the City over any past
procedural matters, the City and Mayor Mathis signed a
Release of Claims agreement. The Administrator of the
City’s retirement plan agreed that the Release
Agreement was advisable and in everyone’s best interest.
That Agreement provides that both Mayor Mathis and the
City will release the other party from any claims related to
procedural errors that may have occurred in the past related
to the Mayor’s compensation, payment of qualifying fees, and entitlement to retirement benefits. To
facilitate a smooth transition, Mayor Mathis will make herself available to the City as a consultant for the
remainder of the year. These services will be provided at no additional cost to the City. The Agreement
provides everyone with certainty in an unusual situation.