City of Hiawassee budget vote delayed until late October

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A delayed council vote on the potential adoption of the proposed City of Hiawassee 2018-2019 budget was announced at the regular session held Tuesday, Oct. 2, at City Hall. Mayor Liz Ordiales recognized that the final reading is required to be publicly advertised prior to adoption, a measure that was overlooked. The final reading was rescheduled for Monday, Oct. 28, during the council’s work session.

Prior to a motion to adjourn, Councilwoman Amy Barrett inquired as to whether the previous budget would remain in effect until the second reading takes place. Mayor Ordiales stated that it would remain fixed until the 2018-2019 budget adoption.

Minutes regarding the numerous millage rate meetings and September sessions were approved without opposition.

The first reading of an ordinance to enact Municode Digital Listing, a process which will transfer city mandates from printed documents to an online venue, was unanimously favored by council. The ordinances were solely housed in a series of binders prior.

The annual Halloween event was discussed, with plans to relocate the festivities from Hiawassee Square to the Towns County Courthouse grounds confirmed. The Old Rock Jail will transform into a haunted house attraction and candy booths for trick-or-treaters will surround the courthouse porch. The event is scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Scarecrows are beginning to appear on Hiawassee Town Square, a new addition to the city’s fall tradition, with Mayor Ordiales acknowledging the creativity of participants.

Hiawassee City Council meetings are open to the public. Questions and concerns from citizens are addressed at work sessions, the last Monday of each month.

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Hiawassee awarded PlanFirst Community Designation

News
Plan First Hiawassee

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.

Liz Ordiales Mayor

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales

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.”

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Mayor’s Proposed Budget heads to Hiawassee City Council

News, Politics

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.

Patsy Owens

Councilwoman Patsy Owens

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.

Amy Barrett Hiawassee

Councilwoman Amy Barrett

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.

 

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Hiawassee Halloween may feature Haunted House Attraction

News, Upcoming Events
Old Rock Jail

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales announced that Halloween on Hiawassee Square may be relocated to the Towns County Courthouse grounds in order to feature a new addition to the well-loved annual event: A haunted house attraction at the historic Old Rock Jail.

Ordiales revealed that the City of Hiawassee is collaborating with Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw and Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green on the notion. The festivities are scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 31.

Sandra Green Towns County Historical Society

Towns County Historical Society President Sandra Green inside the Old Rock Jail

Traditionally, the event has taken place on town square. Hiawassee City Council, along with Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith, voiced agreement with the slight shift in venue due in part to parking issues. The relocation will free the parking spaces surrounding the square that were dedicated to candy booths in years’ past, potentially reducing the swarm of trick-or-treaters trekking across Main Street from business parking lots.

While the plans for the haunted house and venue change were not firmly solidified by Mayor Ordiales as of Monday, Sept. 24, Commissioner Bradshaw stated no objection to to the plans.

The Old Rock Jail is located adjacent to the Towns County Courthouse, with renovation to the 1936 stone jail recently completed through the efforts of the Towns County Historical Society. The two-story site serves as a museum, featuring artifacts and photographs, and is open to the public on Fridays and Saturdays from noon to 4 p.m. or by appointment.

Scarecrows, created by area businesses, are set to begin “invading” Hiawassee Town Square on Oct.1, staked thoughout the month.

A list of autumn activites in the Hiawassee area is available from FetchYourNews.com

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Hiawassee City Council crushes Mayor’s tax increase, 3-2

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

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.

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

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 Towns, Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, 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

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Mayor Ordiales: Not a tax increase, an increase in city revenue

News, Politics
Mayor Liz Ordiales

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.

A previous article on the Hiawassee millage rate is available.

 

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales updates citizens on city happenings

News, Politics
Liz Ordiales Mayor

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales updated the community at the opening of the monthly work session on Monday, Aug. 27, at City Hall. Mayor Ordiales began by presenting photographs of the water treatment plant, pointing out algae growing on the side walls. “It’s clean water, but it’s just got algae that’s growing on it,” Ordiales stated.

Ordiales said that the algae is currently being removed manually with buckets once a month during the summer, and once a roof is placed on the basin, the issue should be solved. Ordiales relayed that the city of Hiawassee is working with the state Environmental Protection Division.

In reference to the city’s tree ordinance, Ordiales displayed a photograph of a tree on Oakmont Drive in Hiawassee that was removed by Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) due to limbs falling onto the roadway, and according to Ordiales, in danger of damaging a nearby building, and possibly an electric transformer.

“We are finally to the point where we can install new fire hydrants. We fixed all the ones that were broken,” Ordiales continued, explaining the process of installation to the council and citizens.

Mayor Ordiales announced her appointment to the University of Georgia-Georgia Municipal Association Training Board, a four-year term in which Ordiales will serve with the Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute.

Although enough petition signatures were not collected in time to place the referendum on the November ballot, Ordiales advised the council to begin thinking about package store guidelines, as the mayor believes enough support will be garnered in the future.

Hiawassee City Hall

Hiawassee City Hall

Hiawassee received a $3000 grant from Georgia Municipal Association (GMA) for safety equipment, and the funds were applied to purchasing hard hats, gas detectors, traffic cones, and traffic vests for the Hiawassee Police Department. Ordiales informed that the grant can be applied for annually, and Hiawassee plans to take advantage of the funds. “It doesn’t cost us anything, and they come and deliver the check,” the mayor explained.

Furthermore, Hiawassee was awarded a grant by the Georgia Department of Transportation for over $19,000, in conjunction with approximately $17,000 received the previous year, and Ordiales relayed that the grant will be used to repave heavily-potholed Tater Ridge Drive.

Ordiales reminded that the last performance of Enchanted Music on the Square will take place on Saturday, Sept. 1, and noted the large turnout of music lovers at the previous weekend concert.

A Hometown Connection meeting was held on the morning of the work session with GMA to discuss the upcoming legislation session. State Senator John Wilkinson, Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby, Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Union County Commissioner Lamar Paris, and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales attended the forum.

The mayor was scheduled to meet for a site visit with Department of Community Affairs the following day, Tuesday, Aug. 28, to discuss the PlanFirst Program, which assists with local planning and implementation. Ordiales explained that a tour of Hamilton Gardens, Bell Mountain, Mayors’ Park, and the Old Rock Jail Museum would be on the itinerary with the panel. According to the government website, PlanFirst recognizes and rewards communities which clearly demonstrate an established pattern of successfully implementing a Local Comprehensive Plan.

Following a proposal by Councilwoman Anne Mitchell to ban plastic bags citywide during the July work session, Ordiales made mention of a recent news article on Kroger grocery decision to remove plastic bags from their stores, and believes that other grocers, in time, will follow suit.

A reminder of the upcoming property tax increase hearings was noted, and the city council agreed that the annual Halloween event on Hiawassee Town Square will occur on Halloween evening, Wednesday, Oct. 31.

The 2018-2019 budget is expected to discussed on Sept. 24, at the monthly work session. Rather than review the financial plan line-by-line as originally announced, due to the reasoning that the council has copies of the proposal to analyze, Mayor Ordiales stated that the major line items will be solely considered.

Mayor Ordiales announced a decision to change auditors, switching to a firm based in Gainesville at an estimated cost of $15,000 per year. Ordiales stated that quotes were sought from two additional auditing firms, and that GMA advised changing auditors every three-to-five years.

Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith delivered a department activity review during  the work session.

A citizen concern regarding trash in a business parking lot was briefly discussed.

The full council was in attendance, as well as City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick, and City Attorney Thomas Mitchell.

UPDATED: Mayor Ordiales announced the payoff of a second USDA loan in the amount of $120,227, the result of a 1989 loan of $232,000, at five-percent interest rate. The decision will save city taxpayers approximately $38,000 in interest.

 

 

 

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

Town Square swings to Big Band tunes

Community, Lifestyle
SEntimental Journey Swing Band

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Town Square was in full swing on the evening of Saturday, Aug. 25, as Southern Journey Big Band performed for the crowd. The 20-piece ensemble, directed by Richard Petty of Gainesville, GA, entertained music lovers during an Enchanted Music on the Square presentation.

Debbie McPherson

Vocalist Debbie McPherson dances with partner on Berrong Street while the band plays on

The band was previously known as Sentimental Journey Jazz and Swing Band.

The band struck up 35 memorable tunes from different eras, such as ‘Moon River,’ ‘Ain’t Misbehavin,’ and ‘Yesterday.’

Dancers took to the streets, including Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales who jived to the band’s rendition of ‘Route 66.’

The VFW Auxiliary provided grilled hot dogs and marinated chicken breasts for purchase.

Enchanted Music on the Square is a weekly event during the summer, drawing record-breaking attendance throughout the 2018 season.

The concerts are funded by audience donations, and support from Georgia Council for the Arts.

Saturday, Sept. 1, will mark the final show of the season, with Paradise 56 performing rhythm and blues.

Author

Robin H. Webb

Robin can be reached by dialing 706-970-8491 or contacted via email at Robin@FetchYourNews.com

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