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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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. – 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.
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
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council met for their regular session May 1, 2018.
New hours of operation were set for Hiawassee City Hall, with doors open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales updated the public on Flicks on the Square, an outdoor, weekly movie night that is scheduled to begin after dark Friday, May 25.
(Correction: Showings have since been changed to twice per month rather than weekly.)
Referring to the associated cost of the project mentioned at last week’s work session, Ordiales explained her original quote was underestimated. “I had originally put down there $3,000. It’s really going to be $3,416 because the original quote of $2,899, the speakers were too small for that area. So when we upped the speakers a little bit, it was $3,416,” Ordiales explained.
Mayor Ordiales said that the “good news” is that she has learned Towns County Library owns licensing rights to many movies until March 2019, and plans to allow the city of Hiawassee to borrow their agreement at no charge.
“I’d like to see if we can have a classic movie night maybe once a month, with like Casablanca and that kind of stuff,” Ordiales said.
Councilwoman Amy Barrett suggested inviting non-profit organizations to sell popcorn. There will be no admission charge to attend movie nights on the square.
The motion to adopt Flicks on the Square was unanimously approved by the council.
A motion to streamline future consent agendas, with the financials and minutes consolidated into a single, swift vote, was motioned by Councilwoman Nancy Noblet, and seconded by Councilwoman Anne Mitchell. The idea was raised by Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick at the conclusion of April’s work session.
The ServLine water leak protection policy was adopted, motioned by Councilman Kris Berrong, and seconded by Councilwoman Nancy Noblet.
A motion to sign a formal contract with the current municipal court probation services was unanimously favored, and the first reading of the Hiawassee tree ordinance was approved.
“It basically says that we’ll have trees in Hiawassee, and that we’ll take care of them,” Ordiales noted at the previous work session.
An eligibility application with Georgia Surplus was unanimously approved.
“This is a contract that (Hiawassee Police Chief) Paul (Smith) found for us that will allow us to purchase items from the police department, the Army, the Navy, any type of government entity,” Ordiales said. “You can buy equipment for pennies on the dollar. When I was the president of the Fire Corps, we bought a Hummer for the Fire Corps, and they put a pump on the back of the Hummer that went into the woods, and all kinds of things like that, for 50 bucks. All we had to do was change the color. So, I brought this over here so that we can get this option. Maybe we can buy some tractors, or maybe we can buy some equipment for the water department.”
The second reading of the elected-official pay scale was approved, as well as the first reading of the benefit retirement plan. Ordiales says the new plan will freeze the policy that has been in place, in favor of 3 percent contribution from the city, zero percent from the employee. The previous plan garnered 11 percent from the city, and zero percent from the employee.
All council members were in attendance, with the exception of Patsy Owens.
Featured Photo: Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council convened for a special called meeting on the evening of April 12, 2018, to discuss the subject of ServLine, an insurance initiative that would cover customer water leaks within the city limits, in turn compensating the city of Hiawassee for related losses. Hiawassee City Council favored the policy in unified agreement, given an allowance for consumers to opt-out from protection should they choose to forego the plan.
The policy will provide coverage for water leaks that occur between the water meter and the foundation of homes and businesses. The cost of the insurance is $1.80 per month for residential coverage, and $2.50 per month for commercial protection. The city of Hiawassee has adjusted the cost of one water leakage mishap per year in the past, and the acceptance of the ServLine program will compensate similarly, for a single billing cycle, in the unfortunate event a loss occurs.
The city of Hiawassee says it will no longer absorb the cost once the ServLine insurance is offered to customers. Pamphlets will be inserted with water bills to notify consumers of the policy, along with a telephone number to call if opting out of the program is desired. Should consumers decide to forgo the service, however, a 30-day waiting period is required prior to re-enrollment in the plan.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales stated that 4.3 million gallons of water have been lost due to leaks in 2018 alone, affecting 40 customers. Mayor Ordiales explained the majority of the leaks are the result of expanding frozen pipes occurring between the water meter and foundation of the structure.
In addition, a 3 percent annual expansion in water charges was explored. The last increase was implemented in 2013.
“Long-term, we are going to have to do a rate increase because we can’t afford to pay our loans,” Mayor Ordiales explained. Hiawassee City Council seemed to unanimously favor the rate elevation, although an official vote has yet to take place.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The city of Hiawassee is considering a water leak protection contract with the insurance provider, ServLine, a partnership program with the Georgia Rural Water Association. The insurance provider would reimburse the city for a consumer’s single water leak per billing cycle each year, a write-off that Hiawassee has absorbed in the past. ServLine Representative Jenna Hazelet proposed a policy to council and citizens at the March work session.
“The reality is that every single person who is serviced water is at risk for a water leak,” Hazelet began. “I think you all have seen a pretty harsh winter here this season. A lot of communities have, especially when you start to reach the mountain areas. You start seeing a lot of frozen pipes when the winter gets harsh, and that can cause a lot of problems with pipes, with the infrastructure, both on the utility’s side, as well as the customer’s side. We have seen leaks that can reach up into the thousands of dollars.”
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales added that water leaks are a common occurrence, quoting a total of over a million gallons lost, while using a resident’s recent water consumption as an example. What was typically an average of 3,000 gallons of water usage per month jumped to a staggering excess of 49,000 gallons in a single billing cycle due to leakage.
The residential cost for water leak protection is $1.80 per month. If selected, pipe protection is an additional $4.80 per month.
The policy would cover mishaps that occur from the water meter to the foundation of the structure. Coverage does not include interior piping nor subsequent water damage that may occur.
In order to file a claim, customers would call ServLine who would compensate the city, resulting in an adjustment of the consumer’s bill.
If accepted, the city may include the protection plan as a line item on water bills, allowing residents to cancel coverage if they so choose. The city of Hiawassee has an alternative option to write the policy into the base rate, leading to mandatory enrollment in the program.
“It’s not for everyone, and if you decide at the end of the day that you want to find a different solution for customer water leaks and the bills that result from it, that’s totally okay,” Hazelet told the council.
Mayor Ordiales also noted that water rates have not increased since 2013, although an ordinance has been in place since 2015, to raise fees at an annual rate of 3 percent. Ordiales displayed a website to citizens, comparing Hiawassee’s low water financial recovery to other cities, showing Hiawassee as “almost in the red.”
Hiawassee City Council meets for work sessions on the last Monday of each month, with regular sessions occurring on the first Tuesday of the month.
Meetings are held at 6 p.m. at Hiawassee City Hall.