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.
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.