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

 

 

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

City of Hiawassee updates Flicks on the Square, adopts water leak protection plan

News, Politics
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.

Councilwoman Amy Barrett at January’s work session

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

 

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Hiawassee on track to accept water leak protection plan, water rates expected to increase

News
Hiawassee City Hall

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.

Mayor Liz Ordiales

Mayor Ordiales sketches the meter to foundation area covered by the protection 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.

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

City of Hiawassee considers water leak protection plan

News, Politics
Hiawssee water

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.

Hiawassee City Hall

Jenna Hazelet of ServLine

“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.

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Historical Society presents 1929 tax digest to city of Hiawassee

Community, News
Hiawassee tax

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Historical Society presented the city of Hiawassee with an artifact Monday, March 26, at the council’s monthly work session: the original 1929 tax digest for the city.

“This is very appropriate since you were just talking about your budget,” Towns County Historian Sandra Green told Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. “This is the 1929 tax digest for the city of Hiawassee. This is the original and we’re presenting it to the city. You’ll love some of these numbers. The Bank of Hiawassee, their city tax was $21.70, but they only paid $20.30, and we aren’t sure why.”

The crowd erupted in laughter.

Penciled beside the typewritten taxes due from the Bank of Hiawassee, the amount paid is scribbled.

Hiawassee tax digest from 1929

The aged list contains the names of citizens and businesses that operated in Hiawassee nearly nine decades ago.

The tax calculations were based on 40 cents per $100 worth of property.

The total amount of taxed property amounted to $46,977, with $187.60 due to Hiawassee.

The highest amount in taxes owed by a citizen was $16.40.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales expressed appreciation to the Towns County Historical Society for the framed document.

The Towns County Historical Society reminded that restoration of the Old Rock Jail will soon be completed with the museum scheduled to open May 19.

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin@FetchYourNews.com

City of Hiawassee audited, multiple ordinances adopted

News, Politics
City of Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council convened with an unlisted agenda visit from Ed Burton, an auditor with Strickland and Associates, during their regular monthly meeting March 6, 2018.

Citizen turnout was sparse in comparison to recently held sessions.

The audit examined the previous year’s finances, concluding June 30, 2017. Current Mayor Liz Ordiales, Anne Mitchell, and Kris Berrong served on the council during the examined fiscal frame. In addition, newly elected council members Amy Barrett, Nancy Noblet, and Patsy Owens were present at Tuesday’s assembly.

“Debt went up, but assets did too,” Burton announced during his presentation conducted while facing the council. The auditor proceeded to relay his findings before the elected officials, explaining they are based on government-wide standards. Burton noted the increase in assets were the result of grants and heightened service charges, in combination with increased fines and forfeitures.

The audit shows a $121,554 increase in water charges, coupled with an elevation of $54,860 in fines and forfeitures. Legal fees were significantly higher in the general fund, with total professional in general government up $59,144.

The audit states the city of Hiawassee should be vigilant in continuing to raise water rates as needed, while cutting expenses where possible.

Revenues expanded due to increased water charges, along with a $157,623 grant for forgiveness of debt on a project related to water meters. Liabilities rose due to the net Georgia Environmental Finance Authority (GEFA) loan which replaced city water meters, while lessened as the result of a decrease in pension liability.

Burton specifically noted a department level “over-run” related to the purchase of a Hiawassee Police Department patrol vehicle. Although the city of Hiawassee had enough in the general fund to cover the expense, it was not allotted for public safety. Georgia law requires for budgets to be adopted at the department level, stating that expenditures must be spent in compliance.

As the accountant concluded his findings, Mayor Liz Ordiales, who was elected to the council in late 2015 and selected to serve as mayor pro-tem in early 2017, reminded the three newly elected council members that former Hiawassee Mayor Barbara Mathis and former Hiawassee City Manager Rick Stancil were also in office during the fiscal year in review.

The full council proceeded to sign the recently adopted “City of Ethics” resolution.

The motel-hotel mandate was unanimously favored, allotting Hiawassee with 60 percent of the tax revenue, which was once applied in its entirety to the Towns County Chamber of Commerce.

The Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) franchise ordinance passed unopposed with longtime proponent Anne Mitchell motioning, followed by newly sworn Patsy Owens seconding the decree.

A motion for a two-year landscape contract with Mountain Living was approved in the annual amount of $9,225. Out of seven bids, Mountain Living was cited as the lowest.

Although an executive session was listed on the agenda, Mayor Liz Ordiales opted out, stating it is systematically added under the advisement of City Attorney Thomas Mitchell. Attorney Mitchell was not in attendance at Tuesday’s session.

The meeting adjourned “in a record-breaking 22 minutes,” according to Mayor Ordiales.

The 2016-17 audit and city ordinances are available for public review in their entirety at Hiawassee City Hall.

Hiawassee City Council meets for their monthly work session on the last Monday of each month at 6 p.m. The regular sessions are conducted the following Tuesday at 6 p.m.

Both take place at Hiawassee City Hall and are open to the public.

 

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

Hiawassee franchise ordinance scheduled for adoption

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council met for their monthly work session on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. All council members were in attendance with the exception of Anne Mitchell, who participated via teleconference. The second reading of the franchise ordinance advanced without opposition and the final adoption is anticipated to take place during Tuesday’s regular session.

According to the terms of the ordinance, Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) must pay the city of Hiawassee a 3 percent fee of the gross sales of electric energy provided to customers within Hiawassee city limits. A 5 percent fee will be imposed on cable and fiber optic services. Blue Ridge Mountain EMC has informed that the fee will be passed along to residents, businesses, and county agencies located within the city’s boundaries as an additional line item. FetchYourNews obtained copies of current BRMEMC bills issued to county entities, located within Hiawassee’s perimeter. Based solely on a single month’s calculation, the proposed ordinance could potentially increase county expenses in excess of $1,600 per year.

Hiawassee City Hall

Hiawassee City Hall

The ordinance reads that the city has determined it is in the best interest, and consistent with the convenience and necessity of the city, to grant the franchise to provide for the transmission and distribution of electricity, including cable and fiber optic, within the territorial boundaries of Hiawassee. The ordinance goes on to say the franchise fee enacted upon Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, for the use and occupation of city property, will promote the health, safety and welfare of the public, stimulate commerce, and otherwise serve the public interest.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales announced during a previous council session that a new form of revenue is necessary due to the loss of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding. Mayor Ordiales says she spoke with representatives of the three largest Hiawassee establishments set to be impacted by the mandate: Chatuge Regional Hospital, Ingles grocery store, and McConnell Baptist Church. Mayor Ordiales relayed she received no opposition to the proposal. FetchYourNews (FYN) reached out to said establishments, seeking additional clarification on the once controversial issue. Ingles management declined to comment, Chatuge Regional Hospital did not respond to FYN’s request, and McConnell Baptist Church stated that while they neither endorse nor oppose the ordinance, there are concerns about the burden the hike may place on fixed and low-income residents.

The franchise ordinance was originally approved during a special-called meeting held in August of 2017. The decree was later repealed by now-former council members after local residents and business owners vocally rejected the mandate. A public hearing on the issue was held on Nov. 27, 2017. The ordinance was reintroduced to the city’s agenda in January, once newly-elected council members were sworn into office.

Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to convene at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, 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

Ordiales sworn as Hiawassee mayor, Barrett sworn to council

News, Politics
Hiawassee mayor Liz Ordiales

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – In spite of the bone-chilling weather, the atmosphere at the Jan. 2, 2018, Hiawassee City Council meeting was best described as celebratory as citizens gathered to witness the swearing in of newly elected Mayor Liz Ordiales and newcomer Councilwoman Amy Barrett at City Hall. An additional row of seating was added to compensate for the overflow of attendees, while still others stood, surrounding the room’s perimeter. Ordiales greeted her supporters with hugs as they arrived, one joyously expressing she had been “waiting for this day.”

Amy Barrett Hiawassee Council

Councilwoman Amy Barrett is sworn in by City Clerk Cenlya Galloway

Mayor Ordiales

Newly sworn Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales

Patsy Owens, the victor of Post 5, did not attend the swearing in ceremony. Ordiales told FetchYourNews that Owens had traveled out of town and is expected to pledge at a later date.

Nancy Noblet was sworn into office during November’s meeting, filling the two-year seat vacated by Liz Ordiales.

Mayor Ordiales opened the January session with news that a $274,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture loan, dated 1984, had been discovered and paid off in its entirety by the city of Hiawassee, saving residents an estimated $50,000, and eliminating seven years of future payments. At the expense of taxpayers, $602,253 was paid toward the 8.375 percent interest rate loan over a 33-year period. A mere application of $135,000 had lowered the principle. Additional loans continue to be scrutinized. The city of Hiawassee discovered 37 open bank accounts, 20 of which have been closed at this time.

Upon motion, Mayor Ordiales was added to all bank accounts for signature, unanimously approved by council.

Also of note was disclosure that the Hotel-Motel agreement will allow Hiawassee to retain 60 percent of revenue derived from a soon-to-be-enacted ordinance. The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) will receive the remaining 40 percent. Ordiales explained City Attorney Thomas Mitchell will draft a decree, and it is expected to reach the table in the next month or shortly thereafter.

The City Employee Health Benefits were renewed, obtained 50 percent cheaper at $50 a month, per employee.

Mayor Ordiales concluded the meeting by assuring citizens of her intentions to “make good things happen” while vowing to provide “transparency at it’s finest.”

Hiawassee City Council will meet on Monday, Jan. 29, at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall for their monthly work session.

 

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

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