HIAWASSEE, Ga.- Slightly more citizens than usual turned out at the council’s regular session at Hiawassee City Hall Tuesday, Feb. 5, to hear the five elected officials’ verdict on several issues, including the wastewater expansion bid, a pending sign ordinance, the city’s five-year strategic plan, and a proposal to expedite the adoption of future mandates.
Mayor Liz Ordiales opened the session by reminding the public that comments are not permitted during regular sessions, rather work meetings are the proper time to offer citizen input as they are “informal” gatherings. “That is the place for all kinds of public input,” the mayor said.
Concerning the sign ordinance, council dialogue revolved primarily around banner advertising. After lengthy discussion, the council resolved to amend the tenative ordinance, eliminating a $15.00 fee for businesses to hang banners, and removing the verbage pertaining to the amount of banners a business is permitted to display annually. A single banner, not to exceed 60 square feet in diminsion, is expected to remain in the decree. The council agreed that banners should be kept in presentable condition. An extended sign permit moratorium remains in place while the council reconstructs the ordinance.
Later in the session, Hiawassee City Council unanimously adopted the city’s 2019-2024 revitalization plan. Upon motion from Councilwoman Anne Mitchell and a second from Patsy Owens, Councilman Kris Berrong initiated discussion, explaining that he, along with community members, harbor hestitation. “Concerns of a few that have the strategic plan, and me, personally, I think that we need to talk about it a little bit more. I’m for a lot of it, but we kind of went over it one time with (Georgia Municiple Association) and that was about it,” Berrong relayed.
“But you have a copy,” Councilwoman Anne Mitchell interjected. “I do,” Berrong replied, adding that he was not confident in exactly what might occur when Mitchell pressed. Council members Amy Barrett and Nancy Noblet offered that they had spoken with business owners who had voiced similar concerns.
“This would serve as a document for us to use as a guideline for what we want to do in the city,” Mayor Ordiales said, “This was not our input; this was not the University of Georgia’s input. These are the people in the city who came to our focus groups, who came to the one-on-one interviews, who came to the town hall meetings.”
When a local business owner’s concerns were specifically outlined by Council member Amy Barrett during the session, Mayor Ordiales stated that the owner in question was invited to participate in the focus groups and declined the offer. FYN contacted the business owner the following day and was surprised to learn that the owner had, in fact, attended a focus group, but did not recall receiving any type of follow-up initiated by the city of Hiawassee.
Prior to the council vote, Noblet asked Economic Developer Denise McKay what the initial stage of the comprehensive plan will involve. McKay responded that “basic landscaping and hopefully painting” the post office, beautifying the entrance to Ingles with foliage, and improving the town square are the city’s starting points, explaining that the projects are “fairly easy and inexpensive to do.”
During the council’s work session the week prior, McKay listed public art in the form of murals as the third project, rather than the town square, when FYN publicly inquired into the initial three-fold plan.
A resolution to award the wastewater expansion project to SOL Construction, the lowest bidder, was approved by the full council during the meeting. Mayor Ordiales projected completion by fall of this year.
The session concluded with 3-2 rejection of the mayor’s proposal to enact single-session ordinances. Additional information on the issue is available by clicking this link.
Hiawassee City Council assembles for their monthly work session Monday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m.
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 Council rejected what would have amounted to a property tax increase for city residents and businesses owners on the evening of Tuesday. Sept. 11, 2018, immediately following the third of three state-mandated public hearings.
A proposal to maintain the current millage rate of 2.258, which would result in greater taxation due to heightened property assestments, was set forth by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales on Aug. 16.
Council members Anne Mitchell and Patsy Owens supported Ordiales’ tax increase, with Mitchell motioning and Owens quickly seconding.
Council members Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, and Nancy Noblet opposed the motion, rejecting the mayor’s incentives.
“I feel it’s crunch time for us instead of (the taxpayers),” Barrett expressed during the hearing.
Numerous citizens in attendance at the hearings, along with Barrett, Berrong, and Noblet, voiced concern for economically challenged residents within the community, stating that the increase could further affect their ability to adequately subsist. Barrett noted instances of known elderly residents on fixed incomes relocating elsewhere due to the BRMEMC franchise tax, an ordinance adopted by the city of Hiawasseee earlier this year, revealing that additional citizens have stated clear intent to vacate as well. Furthermore, Barrett and Noblet claimed that area businesses have vowed to relocate outside of city limits. Berrong previously relayed that he, too, has received ample objection to the advertised rejection of the reduced rollback rate.
Councilwoman Mitchell remained uncharacteristically muted throughout the hearing, with Owens exclusively shaking her head “no” in obstinance to the concerns raised by the taxpayers in attendance.
Prior to the vote, Mayor Ordiales attempted to reason with citizens and council members, beginning with issues such as the estimated $4.5 million debt accrued, the need to repave roads, and ambition to supply annual three-percent employee raises as the logic behind the rollback rejection. Ordiales stressed the importance of continuing to fund Hiawassee Police Department as a final plea for acceptance. “Where am I going to cut?,” Ordiales asked, immediately prior to a brief recess between the public hearing and the council vote, “I can’t cut my salary anymore.”
Ordiales asserted that the increased 2018 tax digest was the result of $4.5 million in newly-assessed properties, and compared the millage rate of Hiawassee to surrounding municipalities. Out of 15 cities listed, with the exception of Blairsville, Hiawassee remains the lowest. Accepting the rollback rate of 2.170 mills will increase the city’s revenue by $2123, while the current rate of 2.258 mills would have provided slightly over $7000.
Ordiales encouraged the council to direct citizens to her office, should they harbor consternation.
Councilwoman Nancy Noblet publicly responded that many residents do not feel comfortable approaching Ordiales with issues of importance, as they have allegedly reported feeling “bullied” by the mayor’s reproach, a concern raised during a live interview with Ordiales, aired by FYNTV.com prior to the mayoral election in 2017.
A final reading regarding the rejection of the tax increase is scheduled to occur during the upcoming Hiawassee Council work session on Sept. 24, at City Hall.
Feature Photo (L-R) Council members Patsy Owens, Nancy Noblet, Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, Anne Mitchell, and Mayor Liz Ordiales
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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. – 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 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 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