HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Chamber of Commerce hosted an annual “Eggs and Issues” breakfast, Wednesday, May 29, at Daniel’s Steakhouse in Hiawassee. A crowd of approximately 50 signed up to dine, buffet style, while listening to public leaders address community matters. Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby, Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton, and Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith were invited to meet with the citizens.
Commissioner Bradshaw opened the event by sharing that the county budget is in good health, with a $3.1 million reserve fixed in place. Due to past, excessive rainfall, construction efforts were needed in an area that caused a storage building to buckle at Foster Park in Young Hsrris, the commissioner reported, although taxpayers’ funds were minimal due to a generous contractor who offered assistance to lower costs. An insurance check in the amount of $23,000 was issued in response to the damage of the building. Bradshaw shared that sales taxes have increased by $28,000 from this time last year, a testimony to the booming business of local tourism. The commission said that he believes the city governments are in line with the county’s goals. “We don’t want to lose small town values, and small town feel,” Bradshaw stressed.
Next to speak was Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales who, in part, addressed the city’s strategic plan, calling it a “driving force.” Ordiales said that the next project on the list is to make Lloyd’s Landing, where the boat ramp was located prior to Mayors’ Park, a “kid-friendly, fun, family area.” The mayor filled the diners in on the Friday movies and Saturday evening music summer series on Hiawassee Town Square, announcing that 250 music lovers attended opening night, Memorial Day weekend. “We all came here because we wanted a small town…” Mayor Ordiales reminded. “Wouldn’t it be nice to have every, single storefront filled? That’s my target.”
Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby promoted the city’s North Georgia Highlands Seafood Festival, scheduled for this weekend. Gibby addressed the anticipated road construction which will soon begin in western Towns County. “The construction process will be awful, but in the end I think it’s going to be very good for us,” the mayor assured. Gibby said that the citizens of Young Harris are in agreement as to how the development of the city unfolds, saying the residents strive for a “community and sense of belonging,” adding that “eveyone seems to want a village.”
Towns County Sheriff Chris Clinton spoke on the security at the courthouse, detention center procedures, and the recently completed mass “Operation Trial Run” drug round-ups, which landed 53 arrests and over $300,000 in monetary and property seizures. The sheriff noted the local C.H.A.M.P.S. program, the importance of accountabilty in reference to drug court, and praised the volunteer efforts of the Citizen Law Enforcement Academy (CLEA) graduates. Clinton divulged that the inmates currently housed at the Towns County Detention Center are all repeat offenders. “I think we need less laws, and put the teeth back in the laws.” Sheriff Clinton said, referring to himself as “compassionate” and “a results, goal-orientated, type person.”
“We haven’t had the best history of sheriff’s in the past,” Clinton said, calling the statement an “historical fact.” The county’s chief officer informed that he does not see his detractors in attendance at community events, such as the sheriff’s office fundraisers, while adding, “I don’t think any of us are claiming to be perfect. I’m certainly not.” Sheriff Clinton concluded with praise for the department’s deputies and their retention record. “We haven’t had a single patrol officer in over two years go anywhere.”
Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith wrapped up the forum, relaying that he is one of five officers on the city department. “I still work the roads. I still answer calls,”Smith said, noting that having a recently-added fifth officer allows time to tend to administrative duties. Smith stressed the importance of justice and service to the community, and expressed gratitude for two patrol vehicles which were donated by the local Lions Club and a Florida poice division. The chief touched on the annual “Shop with a Hero” program which provides holiday gifts for financially challenged children in Towns County.
In attendance was Towns County Fire Chief Harold Copeland who warned of wildfire dangers, and asked the community to kindly pull to the shoulder of the roadway when emergency vehicles approach, with lights flashing and sirens sounding. Copeland additionally serves as the county coroner, and mentioned the importance of carrying identification with information on next of kin, along with predetermining a preference of funeral homes.
Overall, the theme of the event was overwhelming positive from the public officials involved, and in terms of attendance, the Towns County Chamber of Commerce deemed the breakfast discussion a success.
Feature Image: Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, speaking to the citizens of Towns County
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – FetchYourNews (FYN) met with Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, and Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby, along with newly-hired Economic Development Director Denise McKay, on the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 8, for an inquiry session pertaining to goals, and information on how sharing a single developer will work.
Towns County, the city of Hiawassee, and the city of Young Harris entered into a joint contract to share the expense and the fruits of McKay’s labor in expectation of bolstering area commerce. Funding will be divided equally between the county and dual municipalities, estimated at $20,000 per governmental entity, for a total amount of approximately $60,000.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales explained that implementing the UGA-Carl Vinson Institute of Government strategic plan is Hiawassee’s top priority.
“We’ve been talking about this for several years, and we feel that since we’re so small, all three of us, the county is not that big, the city of Hiawassee and Young Harris are about the same size, and it’s all small so there’s no need to have three different efforts going on at the same time,” Mayor Ordiales said, “So if we combine our efforts, and you know, go toward the same goal, and I think we all have the same goal. My plan to to take the strategic plan that you’ve all seen and go, execute. Check, check, check. (Young Harris) of course has different needs, the county has different needs, and I realize that this is a big strategic plan, that we’re not going to be able to do it all in a year. I get it. But the ones that we can do, we’ll do, and whatever (McKay) can do for my partners (Towns County, Young Harris) here, that’s the way we’ll rock on with that.”
FYN questioned whether the endeavor is associated with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Due to stipulations set forth by the state, Ordiales confirmed that a current affiliation does not exist.
“We’re going to try to pursue Main Street designation, and you know, do the easy stuff first,” Ordiales explained, “If we grow into a DDA, great. If we never get to a DDA, okay.
Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby offered input from her mutual standpoint.
“I don’t see (McKay) as the economic development person just for the county, (or) just for us” Mayor Gibby imparted, “So I see her as one person that we are all funding, right? For different needs. It was tossed around at one point, like, (Mayor Ordiales) and I tried, we wanted to have a joint development authority. Because of the way the rules are written in the state – and you all can get all of the rules – we couldn’t do that. Because we wanted to share, we wanted it to be informal sharing, but we can’t do that. So then in asking a lot more questions of people in the state, we just decided along with some advice, that because we are small, because none of us can’t afford one person per city-county, right? Then we can share the cost of one person who can help us achieve goals, right? So while we all have similar things that we need done, we can share.”
Gibby went on to explain that while McKay’s efforts will be divided, there will be times when concentration is focused specifically on the development of Hiawassee or Young Harris, relaying that due to updated infrastructure, the time is right for her city to set plans into action. “We’re at the place where we’re ready to bring people back together, bring the town back together, and we’re going to do that in the next couple of months, and kind of dust this off, update it, and get some priorities in place, and (McKay) is going to kind of help us with that piece, and what are our priorities, and what do we need to do.”
Economic Developer McKay voiced optimism in taking on the work necessary to serve the lofty mission.
In turn, Commissioner Bradshaw shared approval in the stated goals of the project.
“What is so neat about this, as (Mayor Gibby and Mayor Ordiales) said, is that it is a joint effort. It’s a partnership, and I’m so glad that we have the relationships that we can do that,” Commissioner Bradshaw added, “So if (McKay) lands a business to come into the city of Young Harris, I’m as excited as if it were coming outside of the city limits of Hiawassee and Young Harris. It doesn’t matter to me. It all benefits Towns County.” Bradshaw explained that he is looking at the big picture, leading to the decision to partner with the cities.
Feature Photo: (L-R) Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Economic Development Director Denise McKay, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby
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