Hiawassee on track to reject rollback rate, maintain current millage

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Hall

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Despite higher property assessments, Hiawassee seems to be on track to reject a 2018 rollback millage of 2.170, in favor of retaining the current rate of 2.258.

Hiawassee City Council held a called-meeting on the evening of Aug. 16, to discuss the matter.

In compliance with state law, three public hearings are scheduled to take place; two on Wednesday, Sept. 5, at 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., and a third at 6 p.m. on Thursday, Sept. 6, at Hiawassee City Hall.

According to presented calculations, retaining the current 2.258 rate would supply the city of Hiawassee with an additional $7,080 in revenue. While the amount is a drop in the bucket compared to the city’s $4.1 million budget, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales explained to council members at Thursday’s meeting that the increased revenue could, for example, be applied to the continuing construction taking place at Mayors’ Park.

hiawassee taxes

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In addition, Ordiales reminded the council of the 52 parcel owners who had previously slipped below the city’s radar, and have since been billed for delinquent property taxes.

Councilwoman Amy Barrett was the most vocal of the elected officials on Aug. 16, however, raising a valid point that should the current millage rate remain fixed, taxes will, in fact, increase due to heightened property values.

Barrett firmly stated a desire to delay decision until taxpayers are afforded an ample opportunity to offer input.

Councilwoman Anne Mitchell contributed to the dialogue, claiming that as councilmembers, the duty is to act as policymakers, adding, “(The millage rate) is not the citizens decision to make.”

During the meeting, Mayor Ordiales displayed a PowerPoint chart, comparing the millage of Hiawassee to that of surrounding cities. According to the graphic, only Blairsville was listed as lower, at 1.945 mills. The fact that Blairsville boasts an airport was reasoned for the lesser tax rate.

Hiawassee City Council

Hiawassee City Council (L- R) – Patsy Owens, Nancy Noblet, Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, Anne Mitchell

Councilmembers Patsy Owens and Kris Berrong did not offer clear insight into their positions, although Owens chimed in that maintaining the current rate shouldn’t be considered an increase. Councilwoman Nancy Noblet seemingly shared agreement with Barrett’s opposing stance, occasionally nodding in approval as Barrett spoke.

Of note, Towns County Commission and Towns County Board of Education recently announced a decision to accept their millage rollbacks, with both divisions citing increased property values as the logic behind the drop. The departments have scheduled special called-meetings for next week to finalize the matter.

Public turnout was low at the city’s budget meeting in comparison to monthly work sessions, although several in attendance voiced rejection to the rollback, favoring the current tax rate.

An outspoken newcomer, who was publicly noted as such by Barrett and Noblet, announced that he “does this as a living,” and asserted that he felt it would be “absolutely reckless to even think about rolling back that millage rate,” concluding that property values could potentially decrease in the future, leaving the city with a need to raise taxes in years to come.

Barrett and Noblet responded with recollection of the discord which surrounded the Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) franchise “fee” which was repealed late last year, upon opposition from taxpayers, yet readopted by current council once Ordiales replaced it on the agenda, adding bulk to the stance of welcoming a broader range of citizen feedback.

A softer-spoken citizen suggested that accepting the lower rollback rate might be perceived by the public as an attempt to gain “good press” in favor of taking the seven thousand dollar loss. Barrett objected to the notion, adding during the meeting that what might seem like a slight tax hike now has the potential to ultimately expand to a greater increase over time.

In sum, the city of Hiawassee unanomosly agreed to advertise the non-rollback millage of 2.258, and await public opinion at the early September hearings.

Hiawassee City Council will convene for their monthly work session on Aug. 27, at 6 pm, at City Hall. General questions and concerns from the public are traditionally addressed at the meetings.

 

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

Community concerned as Hiawassee Council maintains silence on questionable Ethics Board

News, Politics
Mayor Liz Ordiales

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Public comments were not offered from elected city officials at the Hiawassee Council regular session, held on Tuesday, Aug. 7, concerning the recent proposal of a citywide plastic bag ban-fee by Councilwoman Anne Mitchell, nor an alleged ethics ordinance breach by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. Information on both controversial subjects can be found by clicking on the highlighted links.

Community concerns abound due to the mayor’s overriding action to solely appoint Board of Ethics members to serve as the city’s moral monitors, without directly seeking council input as prescribed by the city mandate, nor taking the matter to vote.

Remarks made by minutes-old appointee Leslie McPeak, comparing a recent Republican event to that of the Nazi Party, during the July 30 work session, is drawing shocked critique from local leaders, and countless conservative residents of Towns County.

McPeak did not attend Tuesday’s session.

The ordinance specifically states that of the three Ethics Board members, one individual is to be appointed by the mayor, one member by the city council, and the third in joint conjunction. Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), the entity whom awarded the recognition of city of ethics to Hiawassee, cites three alternative processes that may be taken in the induction of board appointees, all of which stipulate council approval.

In a recorded conversation with FYN, following the appointment of the board members, Ordiales defended her decision by stating that council members do not have an issue with the selection. This has proven to not be the case. Two of the five council members confided that they were never presented with an option.

In attendence at Tuesday’s council meeting were members of the local organization Mountain Movers and Shakers, and the Towns County GOP, along with other new faces. Prior to the commencement of the session, an attendee asked Mayor Ordiales if questions would be received, to which Ordiales replied, “Nope, not today.”

Ordiales explained at the opening of the meeting, proceeding a climate change tax motion, that work sessions are the proper place for the council and public to present inquiries and concerns, as those forums are “informal.” Ordiales went on to state that items listed on the agenda are not necessarily issues that the council hopes to enforce, nor support, rather that the listed items present an opportunity for the council to openly discuss the matter.

The climate change resolution, proposed by local environmentalist Vernon Dixon on July 30, was rejected by council members at the Aug. 7 session.

“I have no vote,” Ordiales reminded the council, “Even if I wanted to vote on something, I can’t.” Ordiales spoke in favor of the climate fee and dividend resolution during the conversation with FYN the previous week, although the mayor said she did not have the time nor the resources to personally pursue the matter.

It is unknown at the time of publication whether the bag ban-fee, or the ethics concern, will appear on the Aug. 27 work session agenda, but the latter is expected to be addressed as two sitting council members state that they were never given ample opportunity to approve nor veto the mayor’s ethics board appointees.

Despite Ordiales’ insistence that the matter had been previously decided, former city officials attest that a formal review of Board of Ethics applicants had never taken place during their administration, and in turn, that a decision had not been reached as to which applicants should serve on the board, once the original 2016 decree was adopted. Records showing that an approval had occurred could not be produced by City Hall.

Count on FYN to follow developments as the August work session approaches.

Information on the newly-rejected Climate Change Tax resolution is available.

Author

Robin H. Webb

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

Climate Tax Resolution rejected by Hiawassee Council, 4-1

News, Politics
Hiawassee tax

Author

Robin H. Webb

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

Climate Change Resolution set to appear before Hiawassee Council

News, Politics

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Local environmentalist Vernon Dixon propositioned Hiawassee City Council with a presentation intended to apply pressure on Congress to enact a carbon emission tax on producers – at the well, mine, or port – and potentially provide a dividend return for Hiawassee.

The resolution is scheduled for Council approval at the Aug. 7 regular session at City Hall, and reads as follows:

WHEREAS, the City of Hiawassee Georgia is committed to fighting climate change and is committed to protecting Hiawassee residents from the effects of climate change and air pollution; and
WHEREAS, Climate change poses a serious threat to the City of Hiawassee in terms of the economy, public health, and the environment; and
WHEREAS, As a result of climate change, the Southeast is experiencing warming temperatures and a large increase in the amount of rainfall measured during heavy precipitation events; and
WHEREAS, More frequent heat waves in the Southeast are expected to increasingly threaten human health through more heat stress and air pollution; and
WHEREAS, Sea levels rise and more frequent heavy rains are expected to increase flooding and storm surge, threatening infrastructure; and
WHEREAS, As temperatures rise, agriculture will likely face reduced yields, potentially damaging livelihoods and the regional economy; and
WHEREAS, Congress has the responsibility to act swiftly and meaningfully on the issue of climate change; and
WHEREAS, Legislation addressing climate change should not economically burden Hiawassee or Hiawassee residents; and
WHEREAS, Carbon Fee and Dividend as put forth by the Citizens’ Climate Lobby greatly helps fight climate change, protects Hiawassee residents from the effects of climate change, and is a net economic boost to Hiawassee and Hiawassee residents.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the City of Hiawassee calls on the United States Congress to address climate change and explore a Carbon Fee and Dividend as a sound, effective policy.

Information on the Citizens’ Climate Lobby mission can be found by visiting CitizensClimateLobby.org

UPDATED 8/4: FYN has learned that Council members Amy Barrett and Nancy Noblet do not intend to support the resolution. It is unknown at this time where the three remaining Council members stand on the issue. FYN will continue to provide updates as information becomes 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 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

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

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 accepts recognition as “City of Ethics”

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Hall

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee received formal recognition as a “City of Ethics” at the annual Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) convention held in Savannah, Georgia. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales and Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick accepted a plaque acknowledging the ordinance on Monday, June 25, 2018.

The mandate states that a Board of Ethics, consisting of three members whom reside within the city limits for at least one year prior to appointment, will serve terms of two years. The appointment of said individuals are cited as chosen by the mayor, the city council, and a third by a combination of the governing bodies. The ordinance goes on to list additional qualifications necessary to serve on the board.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales stated that she was unaware of the appointees on the Board of Ethics when an inquiry was made by FetchYourNews (FYN) on the afternoon of Thursday, July 5, saying she will “check notes” in order to provide the information. FYN previously attempted to learn the identities of the board members from city clerks on separate occasions. The clerks relayed that they had no knowledge of an existing board.

The motion to adopt the City of Ethics resolution was unanimously approved on Feb. 6, 2018, during Hiawassee City Council’s monthly session. The second reading was conducted the previous year, prior to the election of half of the sitting council. Mayor Ordiales, along with Council members Anne Mitchell and Kris Berrong, held seats at the time that the ordinance was initially introduced.

The mandate states that elected and appointed city officials must abide by high ethical standards of conduct, with a requirement of disclosure of private financial or other conflicting interest matters. The ordinance serves as a basis for disciplinary action for violations.

Listed among expectations are selfless servitude toward others, responsible use of public resources, fair treatment of all persons, proper application of power for the well-being of constituents, and maintenance of an environment which encourages honesty, openness, and integrity.

According to the decree, complaints of violations must be signed under oath and filed with Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick at City Hall. Copies of the complaint will then be submitted to Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee City Council, and the Board of Ethics within seven days. In addition, a copy will be delivered to the alleged offender. The Board of Ethics is authorized to investigate the complaint, gather evidence, and hold hearings on the matter. The Board of Ethics will determine whether the complaint is justified or unsubstantiated. Should the process proceed, Hiawassee City Council, along with the ethics board,  will conduct a hearing within 60 days of the validated complaint.

Public reprimand or a request for resignation may be issued. An appeal may be filed for judicial review with Towns County Superior Court within 30 days after the ruling by the Board of Ethics.

FYN will continue to seek clarity as to whom was appointed to serve on Hiawassee’s Ethics Board.

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

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

Hiawassee strives to add liquor vote to November ballot

News, Politics
Hiawassee liquor

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council is in the process of introducing legislation related to alcohol sales, with an item appearing on the agenda of the monthly work session, held Tuesday, June 26. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales explained that local restaurants holding alcohol permits, such as Monte Alban and Sundance Grill, would like to offer the sale of alcoholic beverages to Sunday brunch clientele. In addition to allowing local restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 11:00 a.m., rather than the currently prescribed 12:30 p.m., the city strives to gain enough signatures to include a liquor package store vote on November’s General Primary ballot.

Attorney Thomas Mitchell

Hiawassee City Attorney Thomas Mitchell

In order for the referendum to appear, 35 percent of Hiawassee’s 714 voters who were registered in the November, 2017, election must pen their names to a nomination petition prior to August 8, the deadline for a Special Called Election. Hiawassee previously attempted to collect the necessary signatures, falling short, with an estimated 170 signatures gathered. Hiawassee City Attorney Thomas Mitchell advised including an additional ten percent “cushion” in the event a portion of the the signatures derive from ineligible individuals.

Concerns of tax revenue lost due to residents and tourists traveling to Clay County, North Carolina, to purchase liquor were addressed at a Towns County Civic Association meeting on Friday, June 22, and the notion drew no vocal opposition from residents at Tuesday’s work session at City Hall.

FetchYourNews met with Towns County Board of Elections Director Tonya Nichols on the morning of Wednesday, June 27, to learn the details of the endeavor. Local governments have broad powers, conferred by state law, to regulate the manufacturing, distributing, and selling of alcoholic beverages. Cities have the authority to determine whether the sale of distilled spirits may take place within the city limits, independent of whether the county in which the city is located has authorized sales. Liquor by the drink, which allows establishments to serve spirits, was adopted in Hiawassee in 2017, after receiving approval from the majority of voters the previous year.

The manner in which the petition will be circulated for signatures is undetermined at the time of publication.

In county news, Towns Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw plans to include a liquor by the drink referendum to the November ballot, keeping with his campaign promise. “We will put it on the ballot and let the voters decide,” Bradshaw said.

Author

Robin H. Webb

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

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