Hiawassee Council repeals BRMEMC Franchise Ordinance 3-1

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – What began as a decree unanimously adopted in early August ended on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 5, during a regularly scheduled session of Hiawassee City Council.

A 3-1 vote in favor of the eradication of the controversial Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) Franchise Ordinance, adopted by the Board during special called meetings Aug. 8-11, 2017, took place before a full room of residents.

Outgoing Council members Jay Chastain Jr. and Rayette Ross repealed the mandate, followed by a veto from newly elected Councilwoman Nancy Noblet. Councilman Kris Berrong maintained his support of the ordinance, outnumbered by the majority. Mayor Pro-Tem Anne Mitchell, also a proponent of the bill which was initially brought to the table by former Councilwoman and soon-to-take-office Mayor-Elect Liz Ordiales, was not included in the vote per charter regulation.

The three opponents of the ordinance raised their concerns on past occasions regarding the effect the decree would impose on the taxpayers of Hiawassee. Although the city has the legal right to require a fee from BRMEMC for the usage of city land for power pole placement, council members Chastain and Ross retracted their approval once the realization of an additional line item, passed along on the bills of consumers, was confirmed by the electric company. Newcomer Noblet followed suit, rejecting the mandate.

Also on the December agenda was a recap of Light Up Hiawassee, a Christmas lighting event held on the Square on Dec. 2. A video presentation created by Chris Harvey, set to the tune of Winter Wonderland, was displayed and acting Mayor Mitchell expressed gratitude toward those who helped make the opening celebration possible. Nine golf carts participated in the first annual parade with first place for decor awarded to the shopkeepers of Always Christmas. The Red Cross provided cookies and hot chocolate, Ingles offered a cookie decorating booth, and Santa arrived via fire engine.

The discovery of a 1993 Tree City USA ordinance was brought to the public’s attention, dissolving the need for subsequent adoption.

Acting Mayor Mitchell recently attended a Small Cities Financial Conference in Cornelia, Georgia. Mitchell says the seminar provided “very, very good news” and hopes the Council takes advantage of future opportunities for learning.

Mitchell says she is happy to turn the reins back to Mayor-Elect Liz Ordiales in January, comparing the experience of leading the Council to “falling into a vat of boiling oil.”

Motions to approve the September financials, the 2018 holiday and meeting schedule, and the ratification of the Towns County Water and Sewer Authority contract were unanimously agreed upon by the Council.

Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith announced warrants have been issued for two individuals suspected in the armed robbery of Save-A-Lot on Thanksgiving Eve. A press release is expected once the arrests are secured.

The meeting adjourned without advancing to an executive session.

Hiawassee City Council meets for work sessions on the last Monday of each month with regular meetings held the following Tuesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

 

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 Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns 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

 

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Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Nancy Noblet sworn into Council, Hiawassee Franchise Ordinance Hearing takes place

News, Politics
Nacy Noblet Hiawassee City Council

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.

City Clerk Cenlya Galloway swears in Councilwoman Nancy Noblet

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.

Hiawassee Light Up

Light Up Hiawassee takes place on Dec. 2

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.

L-R: Councilmembers Kris Berrong, Rayette Ross, Ann Mitchell and City Attorney Thomas Mitchell

L-R: Council members Kris Berrong, Rayette Ross, Ann Mitchell and City Attorney Thomas Mitchell

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.

 

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 Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns 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

 

 

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Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Councilman Motions to Repeal Franchise Ordinance on Election Night, Loses Post

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held their Regular Session shortly before the 2017 election polls closed on the evening of Nov. 7. A first reading to rescind the Franchise Ordinance, confirmed by Blue Ridge Mountain EMC to result in an additional line item on the future bills of Hiawassee citizens and businesses, was added to the agenda by Councilman Jay Chastain Jr.

The motion to repeal the controversial mandate was seconded by Councilwoman Rayette Ross.

Councilman Kris Berrong opposed the motion and declined a request for comment.

The motion passed 2-to-1.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ann Mitchell said in hindsight that she wishes the Council would have had more time to consider it.

The ordinance was adopted during Special Called Meetings held Aug. 8 to 11, 2017, less than a week after former Pro-Tem Liz Ordiales stepped down to run for Mayor.

“I’m really sorry this has become a community football,” Mayor Pro-Tem Mitchell told the community-packed room, “but it is a source of revenue that almost everyone in the state takes advantage of.” Mitchell suggested a public meeting to discuss the issue further, stating a second reading date is undetermined.

The crowd migrated to the Board of Elections building, located adjacent to City Hall, after the Council meeting adjourned to await the highly anticipated election results..

Liz Ordiales won the Mayoral post with a 70 percent lead over her opponent, Barry Keith Dearing. Ordiales’s crowd of supporters were overjoyed with the results, offering hugs of congratulations to Hiawassee’s newly elected Mayor.

Incumbent Councilman Jay Chastain Jr. lost his seat to Patsy Owens who garnered 62 percent of the votes.

“It is obvious the voters of the city of Hiawassee wanted a change,” Chastain said. “I wish the newly elected Council members the best. I want to thank the citizens for their 12 years of support.”

Nancy Noblet was elected to Post 5, securing her seat with a 55 percent lead over Anne Wedgewood.

Amy Barrett, the sole unopposed candidate in the race, will replace Post 1 Councilwoman Rayette Ross who chose to not seek re-election.

Liz Ordiales responded to FYN’s request for comment on her victory:

“Thank you for your support throughout this campaign,” Ordiales wrote. “It is a privilege and an honor to be a representative of our great city. I will not let you down and will always put Hiawassee first! Let’s get to work!”

Hiawassee City Council will be sworn into office on January 1, 2018.

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Liz Ordiales Defends City Ordinance, Jay Chastain Jr. Questions Decision

News, Politics
Hiawassee Mayor

HIAWASSEE, GA – In an appearance on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017, at the Movers and Shakers, EMC Director Roy Perren confirmed BRMEMC is required by state law to accept the Franchise Ordinance approved by Hiawassee City Council during Special Called Meetings on Aug. 8 to 11, 2017.

Director Perren explained the controversial “tax versus fee” will be passed along to Hiawassee citizens in the form of an additional line item on future bills. Based on an average of 897 kilowatt-hours per residence, BRMEMC members can expect to see an increase of $55.00 per year in charges. Businesses within the city limits will also see their rates rise.

“[The estimate] is skewed low because of part-time residents,” Roy Perren said. The EMC Director referenced the City’s ordinance as a fee, not a tax enacted by the Council. BRMEMC will hold their first Open Meeting on Nov. 16 at 6:00 p.m. at their facility in Young Harris. A two-day notice of public attendance was stipulated by Mr. Perren.

Liz Ordiales Hiawassee

Liz Ordiales at October 2 Candidate Forum

“This ordinance was to impose a Franchise FEE to the BRMEMC for the use of our City Right of Ways. It is state law that municipalities can imposed this FEE.  Of the 535 cities in Georgia, 98 percent collect these fees,” Mayoral candidate Liz Ordiales maintains.

“This ordinance was passed by the entire City Council and was completed while I was not a part of the leadership of the city. Councilman Chastain DID vote for this ordinance to move forward,” Ordiales emphasized in an email sent to Fetch Your News on October 31.

The controversial ordinance was adopted less than a week after Ordiales stepped down as Hiawassee Mayor Pro-Tem, a decision made in order to seek election as the “City’s CEO.” Although no longer officially in office, Ordiales continued to volunteer her time steering the Council’s course.

Councilman Jay Chastain Jr. expressed regret toward approving the decree in numerous interviews conducted by Fetch Your News.

“The ordinance moved too fast during Special Called Meetings. I was under the impression it wouldn’t affect the citizens or business owners,” Chastain explained. “All I heard was how great this would be for Hiawassee, how the City would rake in fees from [BRMEMC] and it seemed like a good thing. Once I understood it would affect the people, I wished I had been given the time to look into the details beforehand. I voted yes, but knowing what I know now makes a world of difference.”

Jay Chastain Jr

Jay Chastain Jr. at October 2 Candidate Forum

Councilman Chastain says the ordinance played a role in his decision to endorse Ordiales’s opponent, Barry Keith Dearing.

“Barry wants to do the right thing. He wants to repeal it. Tax or fee, whatever you want to call it, at the end of the day it will cost the taxpayers,” Chastain says.

Fetch Your News was not notified, per law, of the Special Called Meetings in which the Franchise or Planning-Expansion Ordinances were adopted. Chastain voted no to the latter, but was outvoted by the Council.

Invitations to discuss the approaching Hiawassee City Council election were extended to all candidates by Fetch Your News.

Follow FYN for continued coverage of the 2017 election. Count on us to broadcast results on November 7.

 

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Candidates Clash as BRMEMC Rejects City of Hiawassee Tax

News, Politics
Hiawassee election

Hiawassee, GA – In a letter addressed to Hiawassee City Council, Blue Ridge Mountain EMC reached a decision to reject the 4% Franchise Tax adopted by the City of Hiawassee during Special Called Council Meetings held between August 8-11, 2017.

BRMEMC General Manager Jeremy Nelms confirmed the assessment would be included as an additional line item on the future bills of customers had the ordinance been accepted, “paid solely by BRMEMC members residing within the City of Hiawassee.”

Mayor Candidate Barry Keith Dearing brought the recently passed ordinance to the public’s attention at the Hiawassee Council Forum on October 2, 2017, simply saying the ordinance was “an unclear thing that needs to be told.”

Former Hiawasee Mayor Pro-Tem candidate, Liz Ordiales, refuted Dearing’s claim, stating the ordinance was not a tax, defining it as a “fee” imposed on BRMEMC.

Ordiales accused Dearing of running a dishonest campaign in a social media rant on the morning of October 7, writing his allegation of taxation were “all lies,” adding if Dearing couldn’t win on his own merit, he shouldn’t “play the game.”

Mayor Candidate Ordiales responded to FYN’s request for additional comment the following day, “This is NOT a tax on the citizens of Hiawassee.  This is a fee that 524 out of 535 cities in Georgia collect from their utility company.  The fee is for the EMC to use City property to provide their services to our citizens,” Ordiales emphasized in an email.

The BRMEMC rejection, addressed to Councilman Kris Berrong on October 4, went on to explain the denial is due in part to the City’s desire to collect back “tax fees” from the start of the 2017 calendar year, 8-months prior the adoption of the Franchise Tax ordinance. BRMEMC also stated the fee amounts to double taxation as the facilities used to provide fiber and cable services to consumers are the same which supply electricity.

Mayor Candidate Dearing stated this evening, “Keep in mind, this was not BRMEMC’s idea. [The people] deserve to see the truth,” attached to a copy image of the letter issued by BRMEMC.

Despite a direct media request by Fetch Your News (FYN) to receive notification of Special Called and Emergency Meetings, FYN was unaware of the August 8-11 Franchise Tax motion and its subsequent approval. Government agencies are required by Georgia’s Open Meeting Act to provide advance notice to the public, as well as all requesting news outlets, specifically if their frequency of publication is above that of the legal organ.

Early voting for Hiawassee City Council begins next Monday, October 16.

The election will take place on Tuesday, November 7.

Updated information on the controversial ordinance is available.

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 Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns 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@FetchYourNews.com

Tax or Fee? Conflict between Mayoral Candidates Heats Up

News, Politics
Hiawassee election

Hiawassee, GA – The race for Hiawassee’s next mayor took a turn toward “politics-as-usual” on Saturday, October 7, the result of a clash in mindset between the two candidates seeking the City’s highest post, Liz Ordiales and Barry Keith Dearing.

Liz Ordiales at the Candidate Forum on October 2.

Liz Ordiales responded to Barry Dearing’s published allegation of covert higher taxation on her social media page, expressing disappointment in her opponent.

Candidate Ordiales wrote, “The article [Dearing] ran in this week’s paper is all lies. If you can’t win on your own merit, don’t play the game.”

The conflict stems from a decision made during Special Called Council Meetings held on August 8 and August 11, concerning the adoption of the Franchise Tax.

Fetch Your News contacted the Mayoral candidates on Sunday, October 8, seeking comments regarding their division.

Candidate Ordiales refers to the passed ordinance as a fee, while Candidate Dearing insists it is a tax.

Ms. Ordiales responded, “As I explained at my first Meet and Greet on September 18, the Candidate Forum on October 2, and at the Mover & Shakers meeting this past Friday, this is not a tax on the citizens of Hiawassee. This is a fee that 524 out of 535 cities in Georgia collect from their utility company. The fee is for EMC to use City property to provide their services to our citizens.”

“The rate assigned was 4% which is the lowest possible, so on an electric bill of $100, that would be $4.00 that the EMC should be paying the City. Windstream has been paying this franchise fee for years and we must get ready for new companies entering our area to provide services,” Ordiales said.

Ms. Ordiales stressed the tax does not apply to Hiawassee citizens, adding, “If Mr. Dearing would have attended meetings prior to his announcement to run for Mayor, he would have been educated on this topic. This was discussed at two council meetings, had two readings – as it is an ordinance – and was approved by the entire council.”

Barry Keith Dearing at the Candidate Forum on October 2.

Ordiales went onto say Dearing’s accusation of support for higher taxation is untrue,  “I have had two opportunities to vote for higher tax increases and have not done so.”

Barry Keith Dearing views the Franchise Tax in a different light, claiming former Mayor Pro-Tem “passed the largest tax increase in the City’s history without public hearing or comment. The Franchise tax is directed against all City businesses and residents, and will appear on [their] power bill in the near future.”

If elected, Barry Keith Dearing intends to repeal what he considers a tax, vowing there will be no future increases.

Fetch Your News was unaware of the Special Called Meetings, a violation of State law, in which the motion in question was discussed and adopted.

Fetch Your News is awaiting a response from Blue Ridge Mountain EMC as to whether the ordinance will be passed along to customers in the form of higher bills.

Updated information is available.

 

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 Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns 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@FetchYourNews.com

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