HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith is asking for the public’s assistance in fostering a program proven to save lives. Georgia’s Yellow Dot program offers an envelope packet to citizens over the age of 55, free of charge, for residents to list basic information that may be critical for first responders in the event of a medical emergency,
The Yellow Dot program is a partnership between the Georgia Department of Public Health and Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Aging Services. The program will initially supply 1500 packets, in increments of 500, to the City of Hiawassee for if the community shows increasing interest in the initiative.
Chief Smith is asking for local businesses, civic organizations, and area churches to partner with Hiawassee Police Department in the life-saving project. While the amount of envelopes offered may seem like enough to provide for seniors, Smith explained that it is recommended that residents place one packet in their home, and another in the glove box of their vehicle.
The packet includes a form to add important information, such as medical conditions, medications, and emergency contacts. A bright, yellow sticker is included to affix to the outside of homes and vehicles to alert first responders that the information is available.
Community members interested in partnering with the Hiawassee Police Department can receive additional information from Hiawassee City Hall.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held their monthly work session Feb. 25, 2019, and Hiawassee City Hall was filled to rare capacity with citizens invested in the county seat’s future. Following the business portion of the meeting, public comments were accepted.
What follows is a speech, in its entirety, delivered by Towns County resident Becky Landress. FYN tracked Landress after the meeting to request a copy. The public address followed an article published by FYN earlier this month.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, Council and Ms. Mayor;
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Becky Landress. I am a resident of this county and have been my entire life. Despite what a lot of progressive, move in residents feel, I am not uneducated, nor have I been sheltered by small town life. I have a background in journalism and the reason I have stayed in Towns County has much to do with a lot of what has been mentioned as a potential for change. My family is one of the main components, which is not on the table of change, thankfully; although the rest may be.
“My roots run deep. I am proud to know many of the families that make up my community. Families I went to school with, or that taught me, or that have children that have grown up along side my own children. Although finding a job in this area that would fulfill my family’s needs was near impossible, my husband and I made it work for the other benefits. He drove back and forth from Gainesville for over seventeen years to provide for us. He would leave before daylight and often get home well after. We still chose to stay put for the benefit of our children; a good school system, recreation for our children, small town feel, and a value system that mimicked those of our neighbors. Today, I don’t believe we would make that same decision.
“Families are moving away, and others are not moving in. Jobs are still scarce and now recreation programs are almost non existent for children. Our surrounding communities still have recreation programs for children running full force and most importantly, no one is questioning their “Bible Belt stigma”.
“Our traditional values are being questioned by business owners that moved to our area, with those very values in play. Those “progressive” business owners somehow have a voice with this council although they were not elected by anyone in the area. They want to change our “Bible belt stigma” and even want to dictate what music should be welcomed by our area. I’m sorry, but as a native of this area, I find these voices have no business being heard by those of us that were here long before them and didn’t ask their opinion, although this is the make up of your “ethics” board. Really? Calling a political party names and associating them with one of the most horrific groups in history is not someone I would nominate to divise up any board with the word ethical in the description.
“Ms. Mayor and members of this council, I don’t reside within the city limits of Hiawassee but I should, along with every tax paying citizen in this county, have a voice. When people were invited to help divise the five year strategic plan, and boards were made up, they were a make up of a small amount of people that actually represent the vision of most residents. I realize you are a City Council and those that do not live within city limits don’t have a vote, but we should have a voice. No one can live in this county and not have a vested interest in the happenings within Hiawassee. This is where we do our grocery shopping, school clothes shopping with our children and main street is the road we travel to take our children to school everyday, or better yet, church on Sunday. It is the road I travel down to arrive at our small business on the outskirts of town.
“Let’s be honest here, if a five year strategic plan is in place, an aesthetic vision should be one of the components, but not the main component. When hiring an economic developer, as we have, we should feel in line with the words of our county commissioner, “we will try it for one year”. He also has a vision focused on families, instead of primarily community beautification.
“Ms. Webb’s article brought my attention to a lot of things I was unaware of beforehand. I believe many residents weren’t aware of most of the things addressed in her article. Since the article, I have been to the City’s website and studied each slide in the newly adopted strategic plan. I have read about all the previous meetings leading up to that point and I have gained much respect for three members of this council for representing the districts that appointed you.
“The mayor reached out to me through a message and asked me to meet with her to discuss my concerns after me and many others read the article covering last month’s council meeting, and we expressed our ill feelings of many things, most of which was said by a member of the ethics board. We didn’t appoint her to anything and she wasn’t elected by the voters of this City. If she feels the Bible Belt stigma is not her thing, Highway 76 will take her to a city on either side of Hiawassee. Let’s see if that proposition would hold water in either of those communities.
“Honestly, I had never heard of the term “gentrification” before Ms. Webb’s coverage, but I have studied the strategic plan, read about proposed water bill increases, additional proposed taxes and much more. I also have come to the conclusion that gentrification is at play.
“Ms. Mayor, please take note of the wishes of the community you moved in to. The community that welcomed you and even elected you to office. Look back over our history and listen to families. We are not worried about which bag we need to carry out of Ingles. We know our post office is outdated and we also see way too many vacant buildings. Know that many of us remember when those buildings were full. We remember in the late 80’s and early 90’s when there were several stores for ladies to shop for a new purse at. There was one for several decades right here in the center of town and another about a mile down the road, also in city limits, as well as one where those unsightly vacant buildings are across from the grocery store. We remember when restaurants were jumping in the summer and still able to keep their doors open in the winter. A face lift on the post office would be nice but that isn’t as pressing as many of our concerns.
“Focus on a future. Please, focus on getting families here. Possibly incorporate a small playground on your strategic plan. That would look great on the square, near the gazebo. It would work wonderfully with a bunch of new retail stores and restaurants all along the square. We are the only City in our area that doesn’t have shopping and dining around our square. Instead we have insurance and financial. Look into getting stores and restaurants around the square. There are plenty of open spaces and where they are not, try to open up the right businessess in the right spot. If you can accomplish that, families would have a reason to park and walk around Hiawassee, like the visual slides of the strategic plan. If not, there is no reason for additional parking or crosswalks. If you can do that, families would not only fall in love with Hiawassee for the beauty of our lake and mountains and our nice new post office and lovely trees, but they would know we aren’t a retirement ghost town, unwelcoming to families and their needs. They would have no reason to feel Blairsville or Rabun County would be better suited for them because their are more recreation programs for their children and places to dine and shop. With families, comes jobs.
“We can all agree tourism dollars are vital for our area but it’s time we all also agree that our future should not be geared toward retirees moving in. We need to be diverse. We need to bring back the necessities that those that are still working, paying bills, shopping and raising children need. The thoughts and feelings of a select few you have heard over the past few months is not the voice of this community as a whole. I feel you know that. You must know that. Since we can’t vote in city elections without being a resident within city limits, you may be finding an influx of residents moving into city limits and I promise you, it won’t be for the lovely new murals.
Thank you for your time.”
Emotions ran high following Landress’ passionate speech, and Hiawassee Councilwoman Patsy Owens reacted to the speaker’s remark pertaining to respect for unnamed council members. Owens expressed heated dissatisfaction with FYN’s reporting, with Councilwoman Nancy Noblet soon thereafter publicly stating that she did not appreciate Owens referring to the council woman in an alleged, offensive term. Noblet later said that she respects Owens and her fellow council, and while they may not always agree, she will continue to support the mayor and council members when she believes that they are doing the right thing for the citizens. Noblet stressed that she ran for a seat on the city council to serve the people. “I don’t go to any other council member and say ‘This is how I’m going to vote. You need to vote this way.’ I don’t do that. I’ve got a conscience of my own.” Noblet referenced her strong Christian faith, and said that she publicized the meeting on social media beforehand to encourage the high turnout.
Additional citizens voiced their views on varied subjects, ranging from hope for additional youth recreational activities, a desire for a local dog park, and the group seemingly agreed that more economic opportunities are important for the area.
Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett thanked everyone who attended, saying, “We’re a community. We’re a diverse community. We need everybody involved.” Council members Ann Mitchell and Kris Berrong were present, although they did not offer input during the public portion of the forum.
Following Landress’ speech, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales invited the Towns County native to meet privately in order to discuss concerns, and the mayor encouraged the public to attend future meetings so that their voices can be heard. Mayor Ordiales stated that she has an open door policy, and that has proven to be the case throughout her term, according to citizens’ reports and FYN access. Additionally, Ordiales relayed earlier in the meeting that she is making a steady effort to visit local business owners to become better acquainted.
One regular attendee shared that the City of Hiawassee as a whole has positively advanced in recent years, with another citizen saying that she “sleeps better at night” knowing that Mayor Ordiales is in office.
Mayor Ordiales remarked throughout the forum, reiterating that she believes that everyone is moving in the same direction. “I think it’s clear that everybody wants to do the right thing for the city,” the mayor said at one point, asking for the public’s patience. As the meeting adjouned, Mayor Ordiales invited the public to return to “hear the truth.”
A summary of the business portion of the Hiawassee City Council work session will soon follow this release, with a hyperlink added once it becomes available.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales proposed the dismissal of requiring the first and second readings of city ordinances to be spaced a month apart, listing the item as new business on the city council’s Jan. 28 work session agenda.
Mayor Ordiales explained that the change would “speed things up” by allowing both the first and second readings to take place at a single meeting – thus enabling an ordinance to become finalized during the solitary session – should the five council members vote unanimously.
While the process of ordinance adoption would indeed turn expedited, the change would drastically reduce the amount of time for citizen input to a mere week rather than the full month currently prescribed by the city charter.
Given the fact that citizens are prohibited from imparting comments, concerns, or complaints during regular council sessions, the new structure would prevent citizens from publicly speaking if they were absent from the work session when an ordinance was introduced and discussed.
Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to vote on the consolidation of ordinance readings on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m.
Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet, attracting 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 Clay and Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week, reaching 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
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Five months following Hiawassee’s official designation as a “City of Ethics” by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), Hiawassee Council plans to begin the process of properly assigning committee members to serve as the city’s moral monitors.
Three Hiawassee residents will be selected to volunteer as ethics board members – The first appointed by Mayor Liz Ordiales, a second chosen by Hiawassee City Council, and the third in agreed conjunction of both mayor and council.
The ethics ordinance itself 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 mandate 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.
The decision to list the item on the agenda followed community concerns that the previous appointment of ethics committee members were invalid due to the council not having a choice as to whom served.
Hiawassee City Council convenes for their monthly work session on Monday, Nov. 26, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.
Meetings are open to the public.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales proudly announced PlanFirst Community designation by the Georgia Department of Community Affairs (DCA) at September’s month work session at City Hall. Hiawassee was chosen to participate in the program for a three year span, beginning Jan. 1, 2019. The announcment came weeks after the mayor took PlanFirst committee members on a tour of Bell Mountain Park, Hamilton Gardens, Mayors’ Park, and the Old Rock Jail Museum.
According to the DCA website, PlanFirst is a program which recognizes and rewards communities that clearly demonstrate an established pattern of successfully implementing their Local Comprehensive Plan. Any size community is encouraged to apply, provided it has a history of public involvement with development of the plan, active engagement in plan implementation, and proven progress in achieving the community’s stated vision or goals. PlanFirst designation is awarded to local governments on an individual basis. DCA encourages joint local planning; however, each government is responsible for achieving the activities in its community-specific work program.
The designation will be formally announced at an awards dinner at the DCA Fall Conference on Oct. 1o, in LaGrange, GA. In addition, a formal ceremony will take place at the State Capitol in Atlanta in early 2019.
Along with recognition, PlanFirst designation will provide reduced interest rates on certain Georgia Environmental Financing Authority (GEFA) state loans.
“The City of Hiawassee will be recognized across the State of Georgia as a community that has created a robust vision of its future and maintains an active strategy for implementing that vision,” DCA Director Ken Hood stated in a letter to Mayor Ordiales, “This is a well-deserved acknowledgement of successful planning, and we look forward to working with you going forward.”
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Council is due to vote on the City’s 2018-2019 budget Tuesday, Oct. 2, following a public hearing held Monday, Sept. 24.
Preceding a line-by-line discussion of the proposed budget, Hiawassee City Council adopted the rollback rate of 2.170 mills in a 3-1 vote. Council members Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, and Nancy Noblet favored the rollback, with Councilwoman Anne Mitchell solely opposing the reduced tax.
Councilwoman Patsy Owens was absent from the meeting, reported by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales to be traveling.
Owens, however, along with Mitchell, rejected the property tax rollback earlier this month, favoring what would have amounted to a tax increase for city property owners.
Concerning the budget, generated revenue applied toward the General Fund is expected to amount to $798,830, an increase of slightly over $33,300 from the previous fiscal year. The rise is due in part to the collection of an anticipated $70,000 in franchise fees imposed on Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation, which in turn has been passed along to customers.
General Expenses are expected to total $544,780, leaving the General Fund with a surplus in excess of $254,000.
Income derived from the Hotel-Motel Tax is listed at $85,000, with outgoing expenses to Towns County Chamber of Commerce, the Tax Commissioner, and local tourism payments, setting that particular budget flush.
SPLOST income is null as it it is non-existent.
The Sewer and Water Treatment Funds are expected to break even at $721,650 for Sewer, and $860,345 for Water Treatment.
Income toward the Water Fund is listed at $1,679,000, with expenses totaling $1,154,470. “This fund has a little bit more money so it’s not so bad,” Mayor Ordiales stated.
Funding for Hiawassee Police Department, however, is scant, with slightly over $177,000 anticipated in income, compared to $431,000 in necessary expenses. A citizen in attendance questioned Mayor Ordiales’ figures in relation to the surplus of finances applied to the General Fund. “You don’t want to use up that surplus,” Ordiales retorted, “What if something goes wrong?”
A total of $12,000 is listed for General Education and Training of City staff, a stark increase of $10,000 above the 2017-2018 initial proposal. Additional training for City Council remains fixed at $5,000.
Councilwoman Amy Barrett countered that line items within the budget were “freed up” the previous year, such as cuts to employee benefits, along with the addition of revenue derived from the franchise fee.
Furthermore, Barrett inquired into the $17,000 applied to City Hall communications, a $7,000 increase from the 2017-2018 initial budget proposal, separate from the mere $3,000 allotted for Hiawassee Police Department’s communication needs.
“We’re not here to argue,” Ordiales interjected, “It is what it is.”
Barrett noted the $9,000 listed to fund election costs, reminding that other than the Brunch Resolution set to appear on November’s ballot, an actual election is not scheduled to take place in 2018. Ordiales replied that it is wise to have a cushion in the event that a special election is necessary, should a council member decide to “quit.”
Hiawassee Council is scheduled to convene at City Hall at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 2, to accept or reject the mayor’s proposed budget.
Meetings are open to the public.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held the second of three mandatory public hearings on the afternoon of Tuesday, Sept. 4, to alllow taxpayers to shed their thoughts on the rejection of the tax rate rollback.
FYN reported the first hearing which took place on the morning of Sept. 4.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, and the full council were in attendance.
Four citizens were present at the hearing, all of whom offered objection to what will amount to an increased cost for property owners, should the rollback millage be denied.
“Is it worth the peasants paying for the castle?,” asked one passionate taxpayer, adding that she was displeased when the controversial BRMEMC Franchise Tax/Fee was adopted by the city of Hiawassee.
As in the prior hearings, on the current matter and the past franchise, concern was raised for those in the community who may be economically challenged.
“It is my strong public opinion that we should rollback to 2.170,” voiced another resident, stating that it is the consensus of those he has spoken with within the community.
One citizen presented opposition via a typed letter, handed to the mayor and council.
Concerns that taxpayer money may not be wisely applied was the prevalent message sounded at Hiawassee City Hall. Mayors’ Park was noted by Council members Nancy Noblet and Amy Barrett, as well as citizens, as being a source of mismanaged spending.
Noblet stated that she has not yet reached a decision on the millage rate, and will do so at the final hearing.
A resident reminded Councilwoman Anne Mitchell that she had previously relayed that there was no urgent need for increased city revenue, questioning the decision to support what will amount to higher taxation. Mitchell stated at today’s hearing that the sewer plant is of utmost concern.
Mayor Ordiales maintained that it is not tax increase, as the millage rate is set to remain fixed at the 2017 rate of 2.258 mills. State law requires that if the rollback rate is rejected, the proposal must be advertised as an increase to avoid backdoor taxation by government officials.
Residents noted the positive changes Ordiales has made since taking office, such as paying down loans inherited from a former administration, and the addition of sidewalks within the city.
Appreciation and gratitude for Hiawassee Police Department was expressed.
Ordiales cited duplicate reasoning for rejecting the rollback rate during the second hearing as was stated thoughout the first, with the exception of heavily emphasizing the need for adequately funding the police department during the latter forum.
The notion that taxpayer funds would be directly applied to the city’s law enforcement agency noticably softened tones and tension in the council chambers.
Councilwoman Patsy Owens seemingly favored rollback rejection, saying that city roads need repaved.
Councilwoman Amy Barrett made mention of the new flooring installed in City Hall, asking if it was a “necessity or nicity” of taxpayer money well-spent, adding that prioritized spending is of importance.
A one-sided verbal altercation occurred between Council member Anne Mitchell and Amy Barrett moments before the hearing was called to order, with Mitchell claiming that Barrett habitually addresses the elder councilwoman in a condesending manner. Mitchell was angered that FYN was recording the incident, turning off the media audio device, and placing it elsewhere on the council bench. Mitchell publicly announced that she does not wish to be recorded outside of session.
A final public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 6 p.m. The milliage rate will be set immediately thereafter at 6:30 p.m.
Hiawassee City Council convenes for their regular monthy work session this evening, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m.
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HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held the first of three mandatory public hearings this morning in order to lawfully reject a property tax rollback rate of 2.170 mills. A second hearing is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. at City Hall.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, and Council members Anne Mitchell, Kris Berrong, Amy Barrett, and Nancy Noblet attended the hearing. Councilwoman Patsy Owens is expected to attend the afternoon forum.
While public turn-out was extremely scarce, the two citizens in attendance objected to the rollback denial. Both residents noted the BRMEMC Franchise Fee which was adopted by the city of Hiawassee earlier this year, as a reason why they oppose what will result in a tax increase for local property owners. Concern for those on fixed incomes was cited, as well as the fact that Hiawassee would be the only entity in Towns County to reject a lower rollback rate.
Mayor Ordiales stood solid ground in her push for maintaining the current rate of 2.258 mills, stating that the cost of city operations warrant rejection of the rollback. Ordiales noted $4.5 million in debt that the city “inheritited” from past administrations, in which $390,000 is due in annual repayment, and added that there has been no rate increase to water or sewer charges in five years. The cost of utilities that the city requires, the funding of the police department, and general expenses were mentioned, in addition to three-percent cost of living raise increases for city staff. Maintaining the current tax rate will draw approximately $7,000 in additional revenue. Ordiales stated that the 52 city property owners which had flown under the tax radar increased the digest by $5.3 million in assessed value.
“It’s not a tax increase,” Mayor Ordiales claimed, “It’s an increase of revenue to the city.”
Council members Amy Barrett, Nancy Noblet, and Kris Berrong voiced that they have received public objection to the rollback rejection, and challenged Ordiales’ position. Barrett and Noblet suggested other ways of raising the city’s revenue, such as requiring a fee for non-residents to partake in newly-constructed Mayors’ Park.
Councilwoman Anne Mitchell favored the mayor’s proposal, stating, “2.258 is a painless way to increase a little bit.”
“This is not a tax increase. We’re leaving it the same, and clearly no one has a problem with it or else there would be 500 people here, jumping up and down,” Ordiales reasoned.
Due to the fact that property value assestments have risen, maintaining the current rate of 2.258 mills will result in higher property taxes for Hiawassee property owners, a point that was raised by those questioning Ordiales’s proposal. When a citizen reminded that the rejection of the rollback rate must be advertised, per law, as a property tax increase due to the fact that it amounts to such, Ordiales replied, “It’s a terrible law. It was written in 1980.”
If the millage rollback is indeed rejected by Hiawassee City Council, it will mark the first year in approximately two decades that it has been denied.
The final public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 6 p.m. The millage rate will be set at 6:30 p.m.
FYN will report on today’s second hearing once it has taken place.