HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to vote Tuesday on Joint Development Authority (JDA) activation, an intergovernmental agreement which is comprised of a total of nine members: three members each from the City of Hiawassee, the City of Young Harris, and Towns County. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales selected the following individuals to serve on the economic development board: Joseph Ruf, Joshua Alexander, and Eurydice V. Constantinides.
Listed on the resolution is Towns County’s JDA member selection: Stephanie McConnell, H. Daniel Burch, and Dwayne Anthony Phillips. It is undetermined at the time of publication when Towns County anticipates activating its agreement.
The City of Young Harris has yet to appoint members to the board. “As was stated previously, the council has not chosen anyone,” Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby told FYN. “The council also has not formally approved the JDA. That will probably happen at the next meeting.” Young Harris City Council meets Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 7 p.m.
The members of the JDA will receive no compensation for their service other than reimbursement for actual expenses incurred in the performance of their duties.
“It is hereby declared that there is a need for a joint development authority to function in and throughout Towns County, in the City of Young Harris and the City of Hiawassee, which county and municipalities are herein called Participating Jurisdictions,” the resolution reads. “Pursuant to the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 36-62-5.1, such joint development authority is hereby created and activated. Such joint development authority shall be known as the “Joint Development Authority of Towns County and the Cities of Young Harris and Hiawassee” (the “Authority”). The Authority shall transact business pursuant to and exercise the powers provided by, the provisions of, the Development Authorities Law, codified in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated Title 36, Chapter 62, as the same now exists and as it may be hereafter amended. Section 2.”
According to the resolution, each of the members appointed shall serve an initial term commencing on the date of the creation of the Authority and expiring as set forth in two-to-six-year increments. After expiration of the initial term of each such appointed member, the terms of office of his or her respective successor shall be terms of four (4) calendar years and each such term of office shall be filled by appointment of the governing body that appointed the member whose term expired in accordance with the above requirements. If at the end of any term of any such appointed member, a successor to such member has not been appointed, the member whose term of office has expired shall continue to hold office until his or her successor is appointed, which appointment shall be for the balance of the term being filled. If a vacancy occurs in the case of any such appointed member, the governing body of the Participating Jurisdiction that appointed such member shall appoint a successor to serve for the balance of the term being filled in accordance with the requirements.
Hiawassee City Council will meet for its regular session, Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 6 p.m. at Hiawassee City Hall.
Feature Image: Hiawassee City Councilwoman Amy Barrett
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Plans for two Hiawassee buildings are steadily progressing, with Hiawassee City Council scheduled to vote Tuesday on a Blight Resolution proposed by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales earlier this week. The City of Hiawassee recently purchased the historic structures, located just west of town square, for the purpose of downtown redevelopment.
“We did Environmental Phase One and Two studies and there was nothing wrong with the buildings. They even did soil surveys and found that there was acetone in there,” Ordiales said during the monthly Mayor’s Report at city hall. “They said, ‘But yeah, you don’t even have to worry about it. It’s very minimal amounts, you can do what you want with the buildings.'” Upon inquiry from Councilmember Amy Barrett, Ordiales confirmed that asbestos testing was additionally conducted and that none was found.
Later in the Jan. 27 work session, listed as new business, the Blight Resolution appeared on the council’s agenda.
“In order for us to apply for big money for the remodel of those old buildings, we have to declare them blight and like, falling apart,” Ordiales said. “And once we get that we can apply for (what) they call Community Development Block Grants…and if it’s a blight building and we’ve deemed it to be a blight building, they give you more money. Well, certainly that’s a blight building. There’s nothing to discuss.”
The Community Development Block Grant program is federally funded and “focuses on benefiting low- to moderate-income people by providing resources for livable neighborhoods, economic empowerment, and decent housing,” the Georgia Department of Community Affairs website explains.
Although the exact requirements of a blighted location widely vary, the City of Hiawassee has not released specific criteria. The following list, however, are common examples of blight:
• Deteriorating and/or abandoned structures
• Population loss or significantly changed population demographics
• Defective street layout
• Unsafe or unsanitary conditions
• Lack of utilities or public works improvements
• Environmental contamination of nearby structures or land
FYN was contacted by a downtown business owner who questioned the city’s future intentions, concerned with the possibility of the resolution opening “Pandora’s Box” toward eminent domain. Research into the topic of blight, in fact, revealed a consistent connection to eminent domain land grabs.
In late-2018 when the five-year strategic plan was introduced at Hiawassee City Hall, an appointed ethics board member publicly inquired whether eminent domain – a highly-controversial practice in which the government expropriates private property for public use – was an option to abolish what the member considered an unattractive local business. A representative from the Carl Vinson Institute responded that grants, rather, may be available to encourage compliance with the city’s aesthetic vision.
Following an announcement in August 2019 by Economic Developer Director Denise McKay that 209 properties had been identified by the city government as redevelopment sites, FYN filed an open records request to research the matter.
The properties on the City of Hiawassee’s radar for redevelopment include numerous occupied buildings and several residential homes in the area. A full copy of the identified properties is available here: Rural Zone
“Though redeveloping blighted areas may seem like a positive step to many, it can cause major harm to landowners in these areas,” the law firm of Sever Storey, attorneys specializing in property rights, explained. “Additionally, the definition of ‘blight’ is often so vague that the government may try to seize property under the guise of blight when, in reality, the neighborhood is functioning and vibrant. One abandoned building should not mean that an entire block of homes should be seized from their owners and torn down, though studies have shown that the government often abuses its powers to condemn blighted areas.”
A case study was released by the Institute of Justice after the organization became involved in an Elberton, Georgia, couple’s fight against the city to save their small business from an attempt to deem their town square building blighted. “Because eminent domain—especially quick take proceedings—can deprive people of their property, courts strictly construe eminent domain statutes to ensure property and due process rights. Strictly construing the power to take property for ‘public road and other transportation projects’ is also necessary to prevent Georgia governments from improperly invoking that power to avoid the important provisions of the Landowner’s Bill of Rights and Private Property Protection Act,” the Institute of Justice said.
While the issue of blight progressing into an eminent domain situation is unfounded, history has shown a concrete correlation between blight findings and eminent domain in the hands of Georgia municipalities.
Georgia’s constitution authorizes its counties and municipalities to establish a community redevelopment tax incentive program (Ga. Const. art. IX, § 2, para. VII). Those that choose to do so must adopt an ordinance that includes certain provisions.
Hiawassee City Council is set to vote on the Blight Resolution, Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 6 p.m. While the meeting is open to the public, citizen input is prohibited during the council’s regular sessions.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – A proposal to pursue a maximum of two term limits, amounting to eight years, for elected council members was raised Monday, Aug. 26, by Councilwoman Anne Mitchell at Hiawassee City Hall. The agenda item was quickly rejected by Councilwoman Amy Barrett, preventing the measure from advancing to state legislature.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales explained during the work session that in order for the proposal to proceed, the council must be in unanimous agreement on the issue. The matter was broached in previous years, Ordiales reminded, with term limits solely rejected by returning-former Councilman Jay Chastain Jr.
“I like term limits,” Mitchell said. “I really do. It’s kind of like draining the lake every year or flushing your toilet. You get something new, and people don’t get stale, and they do get stale in this job. We know that from the last 20 years.”
Barrett objected to Mitchell’s position, “Just because there’s change doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. I think the people should have a choice…I understand there have been bad experiences, but we as a public who vote, we as the voters are responsible for electing these people, and we could have voted them out. They did have people run against them. It is what it is.” Barrett countered, later including, “If you don’t like the job we’re doing, people can stand up and run against us or vote us out. Or if they like the job we’re doing, hey, vote us in.”
Mitchell interjected during the forum that voter apathy is a problem in the area, and that increased voter activity, along with a greater amount of council candidates, is needed.
Councilwoman Nancy Noblet entered the discussion. “The big question is why. Why will the people not run for office? If you want to see your city do good things, if you want to see the county do good things, why do you not run? There were three seats up,” Noblet asked, later adding, “We’ve got a lot people that have a lot of opinions, ‘Well, I would do this or I would do that or I would do this,’ but guess what, when it comes time to step your foot down, to do it or not to do it, where are they at?” Noblet ended by stating that her stance on eight year term limits was “up in the air.”
Councilwoman Patsy Owens briefly weighed in, favoring term limits, stating that long-term incumbents discourage candidates from entering the race, based on a presumption that the effort is a losing battle. Councilman Kris Berrong remained silent on the issue.
Citizens in attendance voiced a desire to see a younger generation become involved in city politics.
“The term limit situation, unless it is unanimous it won’t pass, so let’s drop that, and we can certainly talk about it again in a couple of months if you guys want, and when the new council member is in, we can discuss it again,” Mayor Ordiales concluded. “(Jay Chastain Jr.) was the only one who did not vote last time for it so I doubt seriously that he will vote this time for it.”
Chastain automatically secured Councilman Berrong’s seat last Friday, Aug. 23, due to uncontested candidate qualification for Post 3. Chastain will return to city office January 2020.
Feature Image: Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Qualifying for seats on Hiawassee City Council will take place next month at Hiawassee City Hall from Wednesday, Aug. 21 through Friday, Aug. 23, between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 4:00 p.m. The qualifying fee is $45.00. Candidates must reside within Hiawassee city limits for a minimum of one-year prior to election day, and be over the age of 21. The election will be held Tuesday, Nov.5, with polling at the Towns County Board of Elections Office, adjacent to the Towns County Courthouse.
Posts currently filled by Anne Mitchell, Kris Berrong, and Nancy Noblet could potentially face challengers, should the three council members choose to run for re-election. Noblet was elected to Post 5 in 2017, occupying the council seat left vacant by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, a former council member.
Posts filled by council members Amy Barrett and Patsy Owens, in addition to the mayor’s seat, will open for election in 2021.
Council members are empowered to make policy decisions and approve ordinances, resolutions, and other local legislation to govern the health, welfare, comfort, and safety of the city’s residents. City council sets policy guidelines for the administrative and fiscal operations of the city.
Hiawassee City Council meets for a monthly work session on the last Monday of each month at 6 pm. Citizens are invited to voice their views at the work sessions. A regular session, at which voting occurs, takes place the following week on the first Tuesday of the month at 6 pm. All meetings, with the exception of executive sessions, are held at Hiawassee City Hall and open to the public.
Feature Image: (L-R) Council members Patsy Owens, Nany Noblet, Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, Anne Mitchell, Mayor Liz Ordiales, City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick
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. – There is no denying that times are always changing, and the sleepy, little town of Hiawassee, Georgia, population 903, is on a fast track to follow suit. While transformation is inevitable and often welcomed with open arms, members from the community have begun voicing their views on what it could mean for the lower-income population, and ultimately, the indigenous culture that has inhabited Towns County for centuries.
The course of action that the city of Hiawassee plans to enact implores the question of whether gentrification is at play. While most people understand the process and effects of gentrification, many remain unaware that an actual term exists. Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as “the process of renewal and rebuilding, accompanying the influx of middle class or affluent people, into deteriorating areas that often results in the displacement of earlier, poorer residents.” In order for these areas to be revitalized, the areas must be essentially cleared out. This is achieved through the raising of taxes and service rates, often beyond the point of affordability.
During last year’s property tax increase hearings, Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett raised concern that senior residents on fixed-incomes are relocating due to heightened electricity costs, citing the city-imposed BRMEMC franchise “fee” as the reason given by the displaced. While the full council favored the franchise, the mayor’s proposal to reject the property tax rollback was ultimately defeated in a 3-2 vote.. On Jan. 28, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales divulged that a water rate increase is in the works, explaining that it has been six years since a spike last occurred.
On a cultural front, community concerns began to surface during a June town hall meeting, held in conjunction with the University of Georgia (UGA) Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which focused on a strategic, comprehensive project to sculpt the future of Hiawassee. While program participants overwhelmingly favored noble plans such as boosting tourism, advancing city beautification, and creating structured, economic growth, other suggestions raised eyebrows, particularly from the conservative population.
Leslie McPeak – a vocal, local business owner who was later exalted to the city’s Board of Ethics by Mayor Ordiales – suggested deviation from long-held traditions, including a reduction in the amount of gospel and country concerts hosted in the area, determination that shops open their doors on Sundays to boost economic reward, and an assertion that the city should steer clear from the “Bible-Belt stigma” that has prevailed in Towns County since its foundation.
Months later, when the strategic plan was completed and introduced at Hiawassee City Hall, McPeak publicly inquired whether eminent domain, a highly-controversial practice in which the government expropriates private property for public use, was an option to abolish what McPeak considered an unattractive local business. A representative from the Carl Vinson Institute responded that grants, rather, may be available to encourage compliance with the city’s aesthetic vision. Additionally, McPeak drew media attention during a previous council session by harshly critizing a Republican election rally held last July on Hiawassee Town Square.
In recent events, Mayor Ordiales, who has been repeatedly praised as “progressive-minded” by supporters – in collaboration with newly-hired Economic Developer Denise McKay – stated during the council’s January work session that the city holds ambition for private land to be purchased by developers to construct “affordable” apartment housing in order to retain the local youth once they enter the workforce. The topic was broached when a citizen in attendance skeptically called into question the city’s goals for current residents and business owners. Ordiales replied that workers will be needed to fill certain positions, listing boat mechanics and hospitality workers as examples, due to a projected influx of a population which will require such services. Unprompted, Ordiales concluded that $800 a month in rent is considered reasonable, retracting the amount to $700 after the council and citizens failed to express a reaction to the mayor’s initial figure.
Upon query from FYN, Economic Developer McKay listed the inceptive phase of the project that Hiawassee intends to implement, and according to McKay that includes improving the appearance of the outdated post office and sprucing the entrance to Ingles while seeking a grant for artists to begin painting murals throughout the city.
It should be noted that the revitalization and preservation of historic structures is listed in the city’s five-year plan, with Mayor Ordiales often referencing the Old Rock Jail Museum as a point of reference, a site entrusted to the Towns County Historical Society by former Commissioner Bill Kendall. Ordiales stated to Mountain Movers and Shakers Jan. 25 that two developers have shown interest in the vacant row of buildings on Main Street, west of the town square, although the structure located next to where Delco once stood will be demolished when purchased. Ordiales recited significant achievements in lowering the city’s inherited debt, acquiring numerous grants, and engineering a plan to improve the infrastructure – all critical components in expanding Hiawassee’s development – during the Movers and Shakers’ forum.
While a range of participants took part in the creation of the strategic plan, the contributors represent a small fraction of the population. The Carl Vinson Institute of Government described the project as a stepping stone, however, rather than an endeavor set in stone.
In sum, while economic growth and positive innovation is widely supported, it is the opinion of the author that the effect of particular politics and policies, left unchecked, has the potential to deteriorate the backbone of conservative communities, both fiscally and culturally. This is especially true if the public whom it affects remains disengaged from local happenings, and apathetic to eventual outcomes.
Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to convene on Tuesday, Feb. 5, for their regular meeting to adopt the city’s strategic plan, as well as hold a first reading to expedite future ordinances by consolidating readings into a single session.
Public comment is prohibited during regular meetings.
The next work session, which will allow citizen input, is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m.
In-depth information on the above, highlighted text can be found by clicking the links.
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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.
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.