HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council unanimously approved a moratorium on sewer services, Feb. 24, during a special-called meeting due to unpaid customer bills. The City of Hiawassee is expected to enter into mediation with Towns County Water and Sewage Authority next week. Hiawassee Councilwoman Patsy Owens motioned the moratorium, Councilwoman Anne Mitchell seconded, with the three remaining council members voting in favor.
A moratorium is a temporary suspension of an activity or a law until future events warrant lifting the suspension or related issues have been resolved.
“We have a total of about 168 accounts,” Mayor Liz Ordiales responded. “The majority of them pay their bills, but the ones that don’t really don’t because it’s over $20,000. That’s more than 10-percent of our total, in-the-bank money for our sewer department. Just today I approved $6,780 worth of repairs and maintenance to the sewer department. It’s an expensive proposition and we just need to collect as much money as we can for that fund. It’s really that simple. So we’re proposing putting in a moratorium until we’re going into mediation with them next week and see if we can resolve any issues we’ve got.”
The mediation is expected to include a review of the mutual service delivery agreement.
The City of Hiawassee moratorium reads as follows:
RESOLUTION 2020–02–03 SEWER SERVICE MORATORIUM
RESOLUTION OF THE MAYOR AND COUNCIL OF THE CITY
OF HIAWASSEE TO RESTRICT EXTRATERRITORIAL
PROVISION OF SEWER SERVICE IN THE FUTURE TO CUSTOMERS THAT RECEIVE WATER FROM THE CITY; TO
PROTECT THE FINANCIAL POSITION OF THE CITY; TO ENSURE COLLECTIBILITY OF PAYMENTS OF CHARGES FOR SEWER SERVICE AND ADDRESS THE ONGOING INABILITY TO INSURE COLLECTION OF CERTAIN SEWER ACCOUNTS OUTSIDE THE CITY IN UNINCORPORATED TOWNS COUNTY.
WHEREAS, the City of Hiawassee (“City”) provides sewer service within the City and to
some customers outside the City in unincorporated Towns County; and
WHEREAS, the City treats the sewage effluent at its wastewater treatment plant, which
plant is operated and maintained using funds collected from sewer customers inside and outside
the City; and
WHEREAS, the City has certain loans for upgrades and improvements to the wastewater
treatment plant, which loans must be serviced with funds collected from sewer customers inside
and outside the City; and
WHEREAS, while some of the customers in unincorporated Towns County receive water
service from the City, most of those customers receive water service from the Towns County Water
& Sewer Authority (“Authority’), and a listing of properties that receive water service from the
Authority and sewer service from the City is attached hereto as Exhibit A; and
WHEREAS, when those customers to whom the City provides water service fail to pay for
their water or sewer service, the City is able to cut off the water thereby effectively preventing
effluent from going into the system that requires incurring the cost of treatment for customers who
are not paying; and
WHEREAS, a number of customers in unincorporated Towns County that receive water
service from the Authority have continuously failed to pay for the sewer service, a list of which
delinquent accounts is attached here to as Exhibit B; and
WHEREAS, the Authority has been unwilling, despite requests from the City, to cut off
water service to these delinquent customers; and
WHEREAS, these delinquent accounts are effectively receiving free public service; and
WHEREAS, the City has had no effective way short of filing a multiplicity of lawsuits and
incurring the additional cost of collection, to collect these unpaid funds; and
WHEREAS, as a result of the Authority’s refusal to cut off water service to customers who
fail to pay the sewer charges, the City has been forced to treat effluent from customers for which
it is receiving no payments; and
WHEREAS, this creates a burden on the users of the system that do pay, and the taxpayers
of the City; and
WHEREAS, these delinquencies and the City’s inability to collect the delinquencies may
have a negative impact on the City’s financial position; and
WHEREAS, the Authorities’ recent offer to assist with collections still leaves the ultimate
decision as to whether to cut off the water with the Authority; and
WHEREAS, there is a Service Delivery Agreement (“Agreement”) entered and executed
by the City, the City of Young Harris and Towns County that requires all new customers who
receive sewer service from the City also receive water service from the City, the purpose and intent
of such provision being to allow the City and insure the collectability of its sewer accounts; and
WHEREAS, the Authority has refused to abide by that Agreement negotiated, entered and
executed by all the other governmental entities in Towns County; and
WHEREAS, the Authority has executed Wholesale Water Agreements that provide that
the City shall have the right to provide commercial sewer customers with water; and
WHEREAS, the Authority has refused to follow those terms of the Wholesale Water
WHEREAS, the City is ready, willing and able to provide water service to any customer
to which it provides sewer service; and
WHEREAS, most recently, the Authority allowed the re-establishment of water service,
without notifying the City, at a location utilized as a restaurant where the previous restaurant had
gone out of business and left the City with unpaid sewer charges in excess of $4,000.00; and
WHEREAS, this situation has become untenable.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, for the shorter of (i) a period of six (6) months,
or (ii) until such time as the Authority is willing to agree to allow the City to provide water service
to those properties to which it also provides sewer service, the City declares a moratorium on
providing sewer service to such properties when a new account for a new customer is sought to be
established, unless the customer also obtains water service from the City; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that new customers or new accounts shall have that
meaning as intended by the Agreements and consistent with standard water and sewer service
terminology, being a person who files an application for service that is not then a current recipient
of such service; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this moratorium shall remain in effect for the shorter
of (i) a period of six (6) months, or (ii) until the Authority and the City enter into an Agreement
that provides the City with assurances satisfactory to the Mayor and Council that the City’s sewer
service charges will be collectable and collected, and that the City will have control over whether
to provide water to such customers; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that this Resolution and the minutes of the meeting
adopting this Resolution be certified and served upon each member of the Board of the Towns
County Water & Sewer Authority, its Director and Attorneys; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the owners of all properties identified in Exhibit A be
mailed a copy of this Resolution such that they are on notice and can provide this information to
their successors in interest or future tenants as the case may be.
In other news, Mayor Ordiales announced that sewer expansion is expected to be completed by the end of March. “All of that work that you see on the bridge, that’s the new pipe coming underneath the bridge that’s going to connect. so once that’s completely done we’ll put some grass out there and make it look a little nicer.” The sewer plant intake has been upgraded with a new wall, paint, and aerator. A pipe was additionally installed on a city lift station.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – City of Hiawassee Councilmembers Jay Chastain Jr., Anne Mitchell, and Nancy Noblet were sworn into office by Hiawassee Clerk Bonnie Kendrick during a ceremony at Hiawassee City Hall on Tuesday, Jan. 7, 2020.
Chastain, Mitchell, and Noblet each swore to the following oath in unison:
“I will well and truly perform the duties of City Councilmember of the City of Hiawassee, Georgia, that I will faithfully enforce the law of this City, that I will support and defend the Charter thereof as well as the Constitution and laws of the State of Georgia and the United States of America, and that I will do all in my power to promote the general welfare of the inhabitants of the City of Hiawassee, and the common interest thereof.
“I do further solemnly swear and affirm that I am not the holder of any unaccounted for public money due this State or any political subdivision or authority thereof; that I am not the holder of any office of trust under the government of the United States, any other state, or any foreign state which, by the laws of the State of Georgia I am prohibited from holding; that I am otherwise qualified to hold said office, according to the Constitution and Laws of Georgia.
So help me God.”
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales indicated at the ceremony that she had met with returning Councilman Jay Chastain Jr. earlier in the day to discuss subjects that have “been lingering for a while that (Chastain) has history for.” Chastain nodded in agreement with the mayor’s announcement.
Mayor Ordiales additionally announced that the Department of Transportation has agreed to install a crosswalk on State Route 76, leading across from Chatuge Regional Hospital. The mayor said that the hospital will fund their side of the roadway, with the city funding the southern side to ensure that the curb is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Ordiales estimated the cost to the city at approximately $3,000.
Hiawassee City Council will meet for its work session on Monday, Jan. 27, at 6 pm in the upstairs training room at city hall. Mayor Ordiales is expected to present the City of Hiawassee’s 2019 “Year-in-Review” at that time.
Meetings are open to the public.
Featured Image: Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick swearing-in Councilmembers (L-R) Anne Mitchell, Nancy Noblet, and Jay Chastain Jr.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Hall is prepared to swear-in three council members next week; unchallenged incumbents Anne Mitchell and Nancy Noblet, along with returning councilman Jay “Junior” Chastain. Chastain served 12 years on Hiawassee City Council prior to being unseated by current Councilwoman Patsy Owens in 2017. Chastain, who secured an unchallenged seat on the council earlier this year, will replace Councilman Kris Berrong, who did not seek an additional term.
FYN asked Chastain what prompted his decision to regain his seat on the city government. “I want to help the local population, the landowners, and give the citizens a voice on the issues that matter,” Chastain said. “I’m a big supporter of property rights, of the rights of the people in general, and I want to preserve that.” Chastain, who was often at odds with now-Mayor Liz Ordiales on issues, stressed that he is not returning with a “vendetta” and plans to keep an open mind.
Chastain, an area paramedic, drew media attention in 2017 due in part to his feisty repeal of the later re-enacted, controversial BRMEMC franchise tax. Chastain shared an interview conducted during his 2005 campaign, stating that his words continue to hold true. “I feel that the mayor and the council have to work together for the benefit of our community. Too much growth, as well as too little growth, will not be of benefit,” the Hiawassee native said, adding that he fulfilled his original campaign promises while in office. “The council has an obligation to keep the best interest of this community at heart.”
The self-proclaimed Republican councilman did not mince words, however, and stated that he would continue to oppose proposals that he believes are not favorable for the citizens that he vows to represent.
Chastain listed the problems that the City of Hiawassee has encountered with the sewer system as a top concern, stating that cooperation is necessary between the city and county departments. “There needs to be some agreement between Hiawassee and Towns County Water Authority,” the returning councilman said. “The sewer situation needs to be fixed.”
Chastain will reclaim his seat on Hiawassee City Council on Tuesday, Jan. 7, at 6 p.m. Meetings are open to the public.
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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 Hiawassee City Council ended at 4 pm, Friday, Aug. 23, and the three open seats have been determined. Incumbents Anne Mitchell, Post 4, and Nancy Noblet, Post 5, qualified unchallenged for four year terms.
Post 3 Councilman Kris Berrong opted not to re-qualify, with former Hiawassee Councilman Jay “Junior” Chastain automatically securing the seat that Berrong will vacate in January 2020. Chastain, a paramedic for Towns County and Cherokee County, NC, was unseated by sitting Councilwoman Patsy Owens in 2017.
Due to no challengers in the race, an election will not be held in November.
Feature Image: Jay Chastain Jr.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Georgia State Senators John Wilkinson and Steve Gooch were invited to address the Towns County Republican Party Thursday, Aug. 15, at Daniel’s Steakhouse in Hiawassee. The evening began with acoustic entertainment by student Summer Rahn, who later led the National Anthem. followed by a well-received rendition of two classic county songs. Student Gabe Moody delivered a powerful speech on the importance of gratefulness in America, speaking favorably toward President Donald Trump and the sacrifice of the U.S. military. Chrissy Figg informed the community on the benefits of the local 4-H extension program, and student Samatha Church proudly introduced the state senators.
Senator Steve Gooch was the initial keynote speaker, touching on numerous topics of interest, including strong support for the enacted “heartbeat bill” which prohibits abortion in Georgia once a heartbeat is detected in the womb, the need for broadband internet options, the ongoing process of medical marijuana cultivation, and the upcoming change in voting machine procedures. Senator Gooch was elected to the Georgia State Senate in 2010. Gooch is a Republican representing the 51st District, which includes Fannin, Union, Gilmer, Lumpkin, White, Dawson and parts of Pickens and Forsyth counties. Gooch was elected as the Majority Whip of the Senate Majority Caucus in 2014. The senator spoke on the importance of voting in upcoming elections in order to keep Republicans in office, not only on a national level, but state and local as well. Gooch warned that the State House could lose its majority if Republicans fail to vote. “If the Democrats take the House, game over,” Gooch said.
Senator John Wilkinson mirrored Gooch’s position on the heartbeat bill, medical marijuana, and support for voter turnout at the polls. Wilkinson spoke with pride on the state’s decision to award individual Georgia schools with $30,000 funding for upgraded security, and favorably of Georgia’s $2.5 billion reserve and Triple A bond rating. Senator Wilkinson, a Republican from Toccoa, was first elected to the State Senate for Georgia’s 50th District during a special election in 2011 and has been reelected to serve in three subsequent elections. Senator Wilkinson represents Banks, Franklin, Habersham, Rabun, Towns, Stephens and portions of Hall and Jackson counties.
Ninth District Republican Chairwoman Rebecca Yardley additionally stressed the importance of voting in local elections, stating that 2018 gubernatorial candidate Stacey Abrams has specifically targeted the highly-conservative Ninth District in an attempt to flip it from a Republican to Democratic hold.
Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw delivered the invocation at the beginning of the program, speaking briefly on the positive state of the county as the forum commenced. Towns County Republican Chairwoman Betsy Young led the meeting’s agenda. Hiawassee Councilwoman Anne Mitchell and Towns County Fire Chief-Coroner Harold Copeland attended the popular event.
Towns County Republican Party is scheduled to meet Thursday, Sept. 19, at 6 pm at the Towns County Civic Center. Meetings are open to the public.
Feature Image: State Senators Steve Gooch (left) and John Wilkinson speak with Towns County citizens.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council rejected the proposal of a digital billboard that would have been placed on West Main Street, near the Tater Ridge Plaza. Terry Poteete, the owner of the current billboards at the location in question, revisited the council at the Monday, April 29 work session. Poteete announced that he was granted permission via an application to erect the digital advertising device, following a previous report on the issue by FYN. The billboard owner took the community’s wishes into consideration, however, and returned to City Hall to appear before the council. Council members Amy Barrett, Nancy Noblet, and Anne Mitchell offered input, explaining that they did not believe that a digital billboard was the correct option for the small town of Hiawassee. Councilwoman Barrett expressed appreciation at Poteete’s offer to take the issue “off-the-table” given the council and community’s negative reponse. Poteete appealed that digital signage is the “future of advertising” to which Councilwoman Anne Mitchell cheerfully replied, “Maybe we’re just not there yet.” Council members Kris Berrong and Patsy Owens were present at the meeting.
Of other interest, Mayor Liz Ordiales announced that the residential water rate resolution is due before the council at the May 7 regular session. The proposal was discussed during a prior session, following a study by the University of North Carolina. The paced resolution would more than double water rates for Hiawassee consumers by 2023. Mayor Ordiales reminded that a rate increase has not occurred in the past six years, and that water revenue is running at a deficit. Councilwoman Anne Mitchell was the sole official to comment on the matter, noting that the icreased rates may “begin to make a dent” in the debt. Business customers will not be affected by the rate hike, nor will North Carolina citizens who receive water from the City of Hiawassee. Sewer rates will remain stable, unaffected by the increase. A minimum base charge will be set at 1,200 gallons should the resolution pass favorably through the majority of the council next week.
FEATURE PHOTO: (L-R) Hiawassee Councilwomen Patsy Owens and Nancy Noblet
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held its second reading of a broadband ready ordinance Tuesday, July 9, unanimously adopting the decree. All political subdivisions in Georgia pursuing improved broadband access are eligible for the Broadband Ready Community Certification if the following criteria is met. A unit may be certified as a Broadband Ready Community by completing an online application form, demonstrating compliance with the adoption of a Comprehensive Plan inclusive of the promotion of the deployment broadband services, and demonstrating compliance with the adoption of a Broadband Model Ordinance.
Additionally, the council voted in favor of moving personnel ordinances to resolutions, adopting the measure. Councilwoman Ann Mitchell said that the mandate will make future processes “more flexible.” Mitchell stood in for Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, who is scheduled to return to city hall Monday, July 15, following a Spain excursion.
Ordinances differ from resolutions. “They are two significantly distinct government actions,” the website USLegal explained. “The term ordinance means something more than a mere verbal motion or resolution. It must be carried out with the formalities, solemnities, and characteristics of an ordinance, as distinguished from a simple motion or resolution. Whereas, a resolution encompasses all actions of the municipal body other than ordinances. A resolution deals with matters of a special or temporary character and an ordinance prescribes some permanent rule of conduct or government to continue in force until the ordinance is repealed. An ordinance is a legislative act and a resolution is an expression of opinion or mind or policy concerning some particular item of business coming within the legislative body’s official cognizance. It is to be noted that an ordinance can be repealed only by another ordinance and not by resolution.”
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. – Hayesville Mayor Harry Baughn was invited to address the Mountain Movers and Shakers on the morning of Friday, July 13, and the city official cited several similarities between Hayesviile and Hiawassee. Situated north of Towns County, Hayesville is the county seat of Clay County, North Carolina.
Elected in 2013, Baughn is serving his second-term in office, and says he believes he will be able to accomplish his goals within the next three-and-a-half years, with no plans to run for a third-term seat.
“Our towns are comparable,” Baughn began, “We each have our own specialties, and our own wonderful places to be. Hiawassee has Music on the Square one night, and we have Music on the Square another night, so we do have some similar things.”
Baughn said one of his proudest accomplishments since election was the construction of public restrooms. “One of the first things I did after taking office – and it’s probably going to be my legacy – was building a set of public restrooms. That has been a big deal in downtown Hayesville. It is right next door to town hall.” Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, who did not attend Friday’s forum, voiced ambition for public restrooms at a city council meeting months prior.
Baughn spoke of the importance of “walkability” in small towns, describing the placement of sidewalks in Hayesville, and the necessity of sufficient parking. Baughn said that an additional 24 parking spaces were recently added to downtown Hayesville, and the City of Hayesville partnered with business owners to replace worn awnings on storefronts to make the ambiance more appealing.
“Business development, the other important thing in small town survivalability,” Baughn stated, “We’ve been doing economic development during my administration, and we’ve gotten quite a number of new businesses downtown. If you’ve not been to the Valley River Brewery and Eatery, home of the famous wood-fired brick oven pizza, 15 craft brews – and right now is Wednesday, Wacky Wednesday – that you can get up to five toppings for $14.99, and I highly recommend the Mayor’s Pizza.” The crowd laughed in response.
Baughn continued, listing additional businesses that have opened in Hayesville within the past two years, such as a home décor shop, a children’s’ boutique, a computer repair store, a pet shop, and a tap house. The city official noted that Clay County Chamber of Commerce relocated to downtown Hayesville. Baughn included that a new Italian restaurant opened for business last week, and an additional restaurant and brewery plans to open its doors in August.
Baughn said that Hayesville hopes to gain an updated post office in the near future, which was a recent topic of discussion at a Hiawassee Town Hall meeting, designed for strategic city development planning. Baughn expressed hope of acquiring a recognizable “name brand hotel” in Clay County in order to to draw visitors to his town, claiming that many Hayesviile tourists choose to lodge in Hiawassee.
The mayor concluded by encouraging citizens to visit Clay County’s newly-renovated historic courthouse which towers above Hayesville’s town square. The majestic structure was originally constructed in 1888, and it functioned as the county courthouse until 2007. A ribbon-cutting ceremony is scheduled for 11:00 a.m. on Saturday, July 21.
“In addition to building the bathrooms, one of the things I’m proud of is wrestling (the courthouse) away from the county since they didn’t care about it,” Baughn revealed, “When they abandoned it, they needed to get rid of all of the wood in there because of the deterioration. When they took out the door frames and stuff, they weren’t really careful. I mean, they took sledgehammers, so basically there were round holes in the brick walls where there used to be doors. But at least they were willing. They deeded the courthouse and the square over to the town of Hayesville. It is leased to the CCCRA (Clay County Communities Revitalization Association) so that they could go after grant money.” Baughn explained the toiled effort involved in the restoration of the historic site, singing the praises of those who partook in process.
Hiawassee City Councilwoman Anne Mitchell, and Hiawssee Police Chief Paul Smith attended the Mountain Movers and Shakers meeting, held weekly at Sundance Grill.
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 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 formally received recognition as a “City of Ethics” at a Georgia Municiple Association (GMA) conference in late June, attended by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales and Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick. Shortly thereafter, FetchYourNews (FYN) reported on the city’s award, which stemmed from a 2016 ethics ordinance, and later adopted by current council.
Section 6 of the mandate states that a Board of Ethics shall be appointed, consisting of three individuals who will serve as overseers of the city’s ethical conduct. The ordinance requires that one member is to be appointed by the mayor, one by the council, and a third in joint agreement of both the mayor and city council.
Violations of the ordinance can result in public reprimand, or a request for resignation, according to the decree.
Remarks made by a member selected to serve on the Board of Ethics, in conjunction with an executive decision to override the stipulations of the ordinance itself, has raised community concerns.
FYN learned that applications to serve on the Board of Ethics were submitted by local residents LaJean Turner, Susan Phillips, and Leslie McPeak the previous year.
In an email to FYN, dated July 10, Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick stated that Mayor Ordiales believed that the former mayor had appointed McPeak, and that Ordiales had voted for Phillips, although Kendrick stated that it was unclear if Phillips was the council vote, or a combined appointment from both mayor and council. “Now that we have the designation, we will need to go through that process of appointing the committee again from the beginning,” Kendrick concluded.
Kendrick could not produce meeting minutes showing approval of an ethics committee.
Former city officials later attested that apppointment of an ethics board had, in fact, not taken place during their administration, with the three applicants themselves confirming that appointment to the positions had not occurred.
During the July 30 work session, Mayor Ordiales briefly touched on an ethics agenda item, presenting her Board selection of the three board members as a statement, rather than as a consideration before the council.
As last Monday’s work session neared its end, freshly-selected Board of Ethics member Leslie McPeak publicly voiced complaint of recent Republican run-off campaign signage placed on Hiawassee Town Square, along with opposition to a rally held by the Towns County GOP in July at the same location. In objection to the square being used for religious and political events, McPeak stated, “Not only the Democrat Party, but the Nazi Party.” McPeak attempted clarification by adding, “The government needs to be bi-partisan at all times.”
The remark, along with previous statements publicly vocalized by McPeak, begged the question of whether council members believe McPeak is the right fit to oversee the city’s code of conduct. At a Town Hall meeting in June, McPeak drew critisism from conservatives when the outspoken local business owner proclaimed that shops should serve customers on Sundays, later adding that North Georgia should work toward removing its “Bible Belt stigma.”
FYN met with Mayor Ordiales on the morning of Thursday, Aug. 2, to gain further insight into her decision to select the chosen individuals to serve as the morality monitors of the city government
In a recorded conversation, Ordiales explained that the ethics ordinance was originally passed in 2016 by the former administration, and that the application for recognition through GMA had not been submitted at that time. “I wanted to start the process again because I believe in what (GMA) stands for, what we stand for, as being a City of Ethics is very important, and that we should absolutely try to enforce it,” Ordiales said, “Serve others and not themselves, put the citizens needs before anything, I mean, there’s a list of them.”
FYN asked if the decision to appoint Turner, Phillips, and McPeak had been approved by the former council, in which Ordiales responded, “Absolutely.” After learning that former Hiawassee officials had no recollection of any agreement on ethics board appointees, Ordiales responded, “It was their administration, not mine. That’s on them.” Ordiales served as a council member during the period in question.
FYN pressed as to whether the mayor planned to seek approval from current council members on the individuals selected to serve on the ethics board, given the stipulations of the ordinance. “I think we’ve talked about it at work sessions, at city council meetings, and none of the current council has any problem with it. I’ve not been notified that they have an issue with it. Let’s rock on,” Ordiales asserted. FYN inquired as to whether the decree itself would be altered, considering that the terms of the committee appointment process were violated. “That’s pretty much a standard ordinance that GMA puts out, that you should follow. I don’t think you have the option of saying, ‘hey, we’re not going to do it.’ It’s their standard,” Ordiales contradicted.
FYN provided Mayor Ordiales with an additional opportunity to respond via email, along with council members, on Aug. 4.
“Since the paperwork and process was not followed by the prior leadership, we were never awarded the designation. When I took office, I wanted to ensure that we became a certified City of Ethics, and followed the proper processes,” Ordiales wrote, “The three previously selected individuals never got a chance to serve the community as they volunteered to do, since the designation was never awarded. I simply afforded them that opportunity. I presented to the council, and verified that these candidates were still, indeed, interested in being part of this process. The council is aware of these selections, and had no objection to these selections.”
In turn, Hiawassee Councilwoman Anne Mitchell responded by email to FYN’s request for comment.
“It was discussed in a council work session (when, I do not remember) and none of us had any issue with any of the three at that time,” Councilwoman Anne Mitchell emphasized, “THAT is direct input! Do you think it really makes a difference that an “appointed by” name wasn’t attached to each candidate? It might if there were twenty vying for the position, or if there was dissention among the council, but there wasn’t. It was brought up at the July 30 work session as a reminder that we ARE a city of ethics, and we DO have an ethics committee, and who those members are. Mrs. Turner, Ms. Phillips, and Ms. McPeak were agreed to, not by just the mayor, but by the council.”
Two additional council members replied to FYN’s request for clarity, stating that they had not been made aware of the the individuals who sought to serve upon the ethics board prior to Monday’s meeting, nor had they been given an option of favoring or opposing the mayor’s committee selection.
In understanding that the terms of the mandate had been breeched, the two responding council members avowed objection to the overriding measure taken. It is unknown at the time of publication where the two remaining council members stand on the issue.
The responding council members, nor the mayor, commented on McPeak’s remarks.
Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to convene for their regular monthly session on Tuesday, Aug. 7, at 6:00 p.m.
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. – With progressive, environmentally conscious Starbucks vowing to eliminate plastic straws from their 28,000 chains by 2020, a local leader strives to make progress of her own.
Hiawassee City Council convened for their monthly work session on Monday, July 30, and an item listed on the agenda contained a council member’s concern for the local environment.
Hiawassee Councilwoman Anne Mitchell proposed a citywide ban on plastic bags, or rather, a five-cent bag fee to reduce the volume of waste, charged to consumers via local merchants.
In an email circulated among council members prior to the work session, Mitchell stated her case.
“My proposal is that we, the city of Hiawassee, adopt a resolution that will put the responsibility where it belongs, and give folks the option of cooperating or paying. We would have to educate our citizens to the notion of supplying their own carry bags or paying for the plastic (or paper) bags if they are unwilling to bring their own,” Mitchell wrote, “Many governments have recognized the problem and have stepped up to create incentives to deal with it. Australia has banned the use of single use plastic bags. California has done likewise. Switzerland has them, but they cost five cents each, and so you carry your own bag or pay.”
Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett attended Monday’s meeting prepared, armed with information to counter Mitchell’s proposal. Barrett relayed a barrage of information during the session, in opposition of Mitchell’s proposal. While Barrett conveyed that she, too, cares for the health of the environment, and believes Mitchell’s heart is in the right place, Barrett did not support the drastic measure proposed by Mitchell.
Barrett spoke with FYN post-session, and upon request, Barrett provided the “Learn the Facts” document that she had downloaded. The information which Barrett presented before the council claimed that alternatives which seem “greener” actually place a greater burden on the environment because they require more natural resources to produce and transport. The research states that ban and tax ordinances have never been successful at substantially reducing litter, waste, or marine debris. “What they have been shown to do is heap unfair costs on low and fixed-income families, and add more red tape to local businesses. The environment doesn’t benefit, and neither do people,” the study asserts.
“It isn’t the bags that are the problem,” Barrett told FYN, “Anything can be turned into litter. The issue is a lack of personal responsibility.”
In turn, Hiawassee Councilwoman Nancy Noblet, owner of local Noblet’s 5 & 10, objected to Mitchell’s proposal during the work session, saying that she is personally unwilling to charge customers for bags to carry their purchases.
“There will undoubtedly be weeping and wailing from customers and businesses alike. Change is like that. But if we initiate this, we can get a jump on what is bound to happen sooner or later. I vote for sooner. I would like to be at the head of the line instead of trailing along behind,” Mitchell proposed in the pre-session email, “Last week Starbucks announced that it was doing away with plastic straws in their stores worldwide. McDonalds is doing the same in many countries, U.S. included.”
Mitchell referenced litter clean-up initiatives within the county, and along the shoreline of Lake Chatuge. “This is a wonderful initiative by citizens, but it puts the responsibility on volunteers who probably wouldn’t throw out a gum wrapper,” Mitchell opinionated.
Council members Kris Berrong and Patsy Owens did not offer input on the proposal during the work session.
City Attorney Thomas Mitchell informed those in attendance that the city of Athens, Georgia, is in the process of potentially enacting a ban on plastic bags, and Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales told FYN the following day that she believes Hiawassee should follow Athens lead, and educate the public. Ordiales stated that the city of Hiawassee is currently not in a position to fully take on the matter, however.
In 2015, Georgia’s House narrowly rejected legislation that would prohibit cities and towns from restricting plastic bags and other “auxiliary containers.” Senate Bill 139 failed by a 85-67 vote that divided House Republicans.
At the time of publication, it is unknown whether a plastic bag ban, or fee, will appear on a future council agenda.
FYN intends to monitor developments.
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 [email protected]