Hiawassee City Council considers ways to get resident input on budget


The Hiawassee City Council considered different ways to get public input about the budget.

The Hiawassee City Council discussed ways to allow resident input amid  Governor Brian Kemp’s continued shelter in place on the proposed budget at Monday’s city council meeting. The regular city council meetings have been held via Facebook live since the shelter in place order went into effect.

“We’re looking for ways to present the budget and maintain social distancing,” said Liz Ordiales, mayor of Hiawassee on Wednesday, via phone. She said their meetings are generally heavily attended, prompting the concerns.

She said while they are looking at all options presented at the meeting, they are leaning toward Facebook live and allowing time for residents to give their input.

Legally, municipalities must present the proposed budget in public meetings at least twice before voting on it. With social distancing in place, fulfilling the obligation is difficult.

“We’re talking with the city attorney and with the Georgia Municipal Association to see how we can best do this,” said Ordiales.

“What concerns me,” said one member, “is that a public hearing implies there should be interaction.”

A couple of options were considered for further review, including admitting Facebook comments into the minutes of the meeting and allow an extra week for people to email comments.

Another option is to limit the attendance to stay in the guidelines of six-feet of distance. People can sign up for the meeting and those owning property would be given first option.

A third option was to move the meeting outside to allow ample room for attendance. Such a move would require a three-week notice.


In other Hiawassee news:

  • Clerk of Court Jennifer Garner sent out 76 letters to residents owing property taxes. The city has received eight payments totaling more than $6,500 with more coming into the county tax office.
  • The sewer plan expansion is two days from being complete. It includes brand new pumps to replace those that were no longer working.
  • Code enforcement had a derelict building torn down.
  • Considered using funds from WTP to pay part of a GEFA loan. The outstanding amount is $678,813.71 on a  GEFA loan  for $1.9 million at three-percent interest. The board considered taking 35-percent from WTP, or $237,585 to apply toward the balance. The money wa used for a million-gallon tank and water distribution enhancements.
  • Approved GIRMA Property Insurance for the city. The cost was $39,996, up slightly from last year. It includes liability at $700,000 per building, including two new buildings.
  • Showed off the senior banners the city will hang up to honor the class of 2020.
  • Approved a contract with Colditz for Lloyd’s Landing In/Out and hospital crosswalk. The company quoted the project at $45,715.21, but the city approved up to $53,000 to cover incidentals. The money will come from the city’s SPLOST.
  • Saw the mural design that is on the east side of the Eagle Mountain Archery featuring lake, mountains, and hanggliders to welcome people into the city.
  • The city hall will remain closed until at least June 1, 2020. They will allow occasional face-to-face meetings adhering to the safety guidelines.

See Towns County’s latest COVID-19 statistics here.


Rep. Matt Gurtler opposes amended state budget

News, Politics
Matt Gurtler

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Georgia House recently voted on the amended, “small” state budget in Atlanta with District 8 Representative Matt Gurtler boldly opposing the measure. Gurtler stated that he voted “no” with confidence as he continues to find fault, specifically with subsidies and free market intervention.

Gurtler relayed that he believes over 40 percent of the $240 million budget is not within the confines of the proper role of government. “Some aspects of the budget were some of the worst I’ve seen in years, since I started studying the budget in 2013,” the ultra-conservative Northeast Georgia representative wrote. “Once again, we are pouring millions of dollars into non-governmental entities and organizations such as Mercer University. Millions of tax dollars would go straight to this private university to subsidize a medical program and that just isn’t right. If we have a problem, such as a need for more doctors, we should be looking at over-regulation and outright monopolies, created by you guessed it; big government. And we certainly shouldn’t be picking winners and losers and dolling our millions of dollars of handouts.”

Gurtler asserted that government should have no part in the actions or the funding of private entities or organizations. Gurtler raised issue that other programs, such as the new Atlanta Transit Authority, was allocated an additional $500,000, and that the “slush fund known as the Georgia One Authority” was allocated $14 million.

Gurtler was joined by seven of his colleagues who voted against the amended budget, with 166 voting in favor.

“It is well known that I will vote based on principle, even if that means going against what everyone else is doing,” Gurtler expressed. “Even if my vote stands alone, it’s important that we continue to have high standards and make sure our vote is one that we are proud to cast for our district, and in line with limited government principles.”

Commissioner Bradshaw announces pay increase for county employees

Towns County pay raise

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw announced on Friday, Dec. 21, that a .50 cent pay increase is in store for county employees, to be reflected on paychecks in January, 2019.

The pronouncement was delivered during a public budget hearing held at the Towns County Courthouse. County staff has not seen an income raise since 2016, prior to former Commissioner Bill Kendall leaving office. Bradshaw estimated the total cost at $150,000.

“We’re going to do our best to take care of our employees at any extreme,” Bradshaw said, iterating their importance, and later adding, “I wish we could do more, but it’s a start.”

towns county courthouse

Towns County Courthouse

One-time, “big ticket” items listed on the 2019 tentative budget include the purchase of an ambulance module, the cost to construct the Young Harris fire station, and the purchase of backhoe equipment.

Reoccurring costs include the across-the-board employee raises, the addition of a second school resource officer, and an increased cost in employee insurance. Bradshaw stated that 2017, in particular, was a “bad year” for insurance claims, with approximately $264,000 absorbed by the county since 2016.

Bradshaw relayed that while the budget is tight, it is manageable. Bradshaw accepted the millage rollback rate in late-August, preventing an increase for county taxpayers.

Towns County maintains a $3.1 million dollar reserve, expected to increase to slightly over $3.2 million dollars should the annual budget proceed as planned. The beginning balance and revenues for 2019 are listed at $13,422,437. Expenditures are estimated at $10,192,045.

The county budget, as a whole, has increased by less than $50,000 between 2016 to 2018, despite the addition of amenities such as the Foster Park recreation and conference center in Young Harris.

An itemized copy of the proposed budget is available to the public at the Town County Courthouse.

The Towns County budget is scheduled for adoption during a public hearing on Monday, Dec. 31, at 10:30 a.m. at the Towns County Courthouse.


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Audit reveals Towns County in good financial shape

Towns County audit

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County received the findings of the 2017 financial audit, and all is going according to plan. “As far as the financials of the county, we’re doing really well. I’m very excited things are going really good. Knock on wood that we don’t have any catastrophes,” Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw said, referencing the devastation to the eastern states caused by Hurricane Florence’s wrath, grateful that the county was spared damage, “But the financials are good. The reserve is in place. Everything is like it should be. We’re on track.”

Towns County maintains an impressive $3.1 million reserve.

Towns County Courthouse

Towns County Courthouse

Commissioner Bradshaw announced that year-to-date, the county has seen an approximate $30,000 increase in sales tax collection. “That means the economy is doing good, and we’re so thankful for that,” Bradshaw explained, adding appreciation for Towns County Chamber of Commerce President Candace Lee’s dedication and contribution to the tourism boom. Bradshaw reminded that the Bassmaster Elite Series tournament begins this week on Lake Chatuge, and that events such as the fishing competition put the county on the map. “That’s folks spending money in Towns County. That’s what it’s all about.”

The 2017 audit is housed in the Commissioner’s office at the Towns County Courthouse, available for public review. By week’s end, the audit is expected to be posted on the Towns County Commissioner’s website 

Sheriff’s Office budget amended, reimbursed for prisoner transport

Towns County Courthouse

YOUNG HARRIS, Ga. – Towns County Sheriff’s Office was recently reimbursed $1,133 in travel costs by a wanted subject who had fled to Tampa, Florida, causing local law enforcement to venture to the sunshine state in order to transfer the wanted male back to Towns County to face prosecution. The subject was sought on several bench warrants, including drug and firearm possession, and was transported on Sept. 18 – 19.

Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw amended the Towns County Sheriff’s Office budget during a special-called meeting, replacing the travel expenses with the reimbursed funds. Towns County Sheriff’s Office Colonel Terry Conner told FYN later in the day that it is unusual to receive restitution in such a timely manner, rather, repayment is typically attached to probation terms.

Commissioner Bradshaw stated that he is pleased that the sheriff’s office was able to retreive the funds so quickly.

Of note, Towns County regular monthly meeting will not be held Tuesday, Nov. 20, as the commissioner will be out-of-town attending his son’s military graduation at Fort Benning, Georgia. The next scheduled county session is set for Tuesday, Dec. 18, at 5:30 p.m. at the Towns County Courthouse.

Meetings are open to the public.

Gooch: Senate Gets Down to Business

State & National

Senate Gets Down to Business

By: Sen. Steve Gooch (R – Dahlonega)

Although the Senate was in session for only two days this week, my colleagues and I were very busy under the Gold Dome addressing budget proposals and a key piece of legislation on the Senate Floor.

The week started with Joint Senate and House Appropriations hearings on the Amended FY18 and General FY19 budgets. Governor Deal kicked off the hearings which included several different agencies presenting their budget proposals. I am happy to say that the state’s budget continues to be in good shape, with the General FY19 budget topping $26 billion for the first time. The General FY19 budget proposals were drafted with an estimated 2.9 percent state fund growth and around 3.8 percent tax revenue growth over the Amended FY18 revenue estimates. Included in the General FY19 budget are increases in funding for education and transportation.

The General FY19 budget addresses the needs for the state to meet determined employer contributions within the Teachers Retirement System with a proposed increase of around $364 million. Additionally, around $120 million would be appropriated for enrollment growth and training. Along with these positive changes in the General FY19 budget, an important proposal in the Amended FY18 budget is adding $15 million to purchase 194 school buses statewide. This will positively impact our students by ensuring that buses are not overcrowded.

The state’s growing need to address transportation infrastructure is also addressed in the General FY19 budget. An additional $31.6 million in projected revenues resulting from House Bill 170 – passed during the 2015 Legislation Session – will be added to the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT) budget. I am very happy to see that a piece of legislation we passed a couple of years ago is still making positive impacts for GDOT.

Along with attending the budget hearings and carefully reviewing the proposals for the Amended FY18 and General FY19 budgets, my colleagues and I took up a very important piece of legislation in Senate Chamber. On Thursday, the Senate passed the Supporting and Strengthening Families Act, also known as the Adoption Bill, or HB 159. This bill passed with bipartisan support and is now headed over to the House of Representatives for their review. Final passage of this legislation and a signature into law by the Governor would allow our state to update our adoption system which has been the same for nearly 30 years.

The Senate’s version of HB 159 clarifies many of the laws regarding who can adopt, who can act as a legal guardian and the rights held by the biological parents before and after giving their child up for adoption. Additionally, the version the Senate passed on Thursday states that if an agency is not involved in a private adoptive process, living expenses cannot be paid. The only expenses that can be paid in a private adoption are medical and counseling. These are just some of the highlights of the Senate version of HB 159. As this legislation moves through the legislative process, my colleagues and I will work with the Governor and House of Representatives to ensure there is cooperation to address concerns anyone may have. It is imperative that we pass this legislation so that we can assist the large number of children who are in foster care and need a loving and stable home.

The pace of the session is going to pick up quickly with standing committees beginning to hold meetings next week to vet legislation pending from last year along with new bills introduced this year. As we move forward in the session, please do not hesitate to reach out with questions, concerns and feedback. It is always great to hear from my constituents and our door is always open.

Hiawassee City Council: Special Called Meeting, 7/18/17

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Hall

Hiawassee, GA –  Council members assembled at City Hall on Tuesday evening, July 18, to announce the millage rate for 2018, review the budget, and provide an update on moratorium work.

Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee Mayor Pro-Tem, reported the millage rate will remain at 2.258% which will amount to $165,157.00 if everyone within the city’s limits pays their taxes. Ordiales stated the percentage is “dirt bottom” in comparison to other regions with the exception of Blairsville. Blairsville receives additional revenue from their airport.

The most notable change to the moratorium was the adoption of regulation requiring owners of property under an acre to follow the same rules as those with larger parcels. The height restriction remains at 35 feet and a 10 foot easement is necessary to ensure adequate space for neighboring property lines. The updated moratorium in its entirety will be posted on the City’s website.

The General Fund is estimated to generate $714,950.00 in 2017-2018. Total General expenses are proposed at $462,750.00 minus the funding for the Hiawassee Police Department (HPD). HPD’s total revenue was $113,213.29 between July of 2016 and March of 2017 while expenses amounted to $321,419.69. 

The cost of funding Hiawassee Police Department is greater than the revenue acquired through the sale of maps and calendars, provision of accident reports, municipal court fines and private contributions.

The 2017-2018 General Fund has been adjusted to avoid a future deficit.

The 2017-2018 budget is itemized in detail on the City’s worksheets and proposed as follows:

Hotel/Motel Fund – $60,000.00
SPLOST Fund – $349,000.00
Water Fund – $1,611,300.00
Sewer Fund – $785,120.00
Water Treatment Fund – $810,220.00

Hiawassee City Council meets on the last Monday of each month for work sessions and assembles for regular sessions on the following Tuesday.

Senator Steve Gooch 3/31/16


State Senator Steve Gooch of District 51 talks legislation for Georgia and Voting Questions.


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