Hiawassee City Council returning to in-person public meetings

Community, News

Hiawassee, Ga – Hiawassee City Council will host its first in-person public meeting at the end of April – a little over a year since the pandemic began.

Announced during the April 6 regular meeting, Mayor Liz Ordiales confirmed that the work session will be held at the Civic Center on April 26. Masks will be required for those in attendance.

Up until now, the city council broadcasted their meetings and work sessions over Facebook Live.

Budget Review

The budget discussion was pushed out until May 24 work session to give the council ample time to review and ask questions. The first reading will be in June.

Hiawassee moving forward with planning ordinance modifications

Community, News
planning ordinance

Hiawassee, Ga – City Council agreed everyone needed to participate in the review and potential rewrite of the planning ordinance.

After Celtic Management presented its plan to develop 16 townhomes on two acres next to Georgia Vision Center, it was clear the ordinance would need rewriting. The existing ordinance only allows for four units per acre.

The project entitled Mountain View Townhomes would include 10 two-bedrooms at 1,960 square feet for $230,000 and up. 6 three-bedroom units at 2,300 square feet for $280,000 and up.

“I think it’s a great idea. I love townhomes,” Mayor Liz Ordiales said about changing the ordinance, “but if we do this for him, we have to do it for everyone.”

She added that there’s more property in Hiawassee than the council may realize especially if they decide to let more units be developed per acre.

Hiawassee doesn’t have zoning, so any change goes into effect for the whole city, not just one area. It’s unlikely the city will institute a zoning ordinance in the near future.

City Attorney Thomas Mitchell stated the planning ordinance provides parameters, but the council needs to make those decisions. For instance, they can limit townhome developments to a minimum of two or three-acre lots. The council could restrict the construction of any additional storage units being developed within city limits.

Ordiales commented that she didn’t think commercial and residential developments needed to be separated in the document. She didn’t want to restrict either one.

Councilmember Jay Chastain’s worried about Hiawassee’s water and sewer capacity if the city grows rapidly without any checks and balances in place.

“Main street ought to be attractive to make people feel good about being here, Councilmember Anne Mitchell. However, she’s not in favor of the townhome project in part because she doesn’t believe they will sell.

Also, townhomes aren’t considered a subdivision, and the phrases townhouses or multi-family homes don’t occur in the current document.

Ordiales again stressed that the council and the planning committee need to “take a minute and make sure we do this right.”

Mitchell plans to read through the ordinance and highlight areas the council will need to address. The council will be emailing him any questions too. Hopefully, by the April 26 work session, they will have a path forward. The ordinance changes could take several work sessions.

Hiawassee earns good opinion for 2020 audit

News
Hiawassee coronavirus

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Rushton and Associates gave the city of Hiawassee a clean or unmodified opinion for their 2020 audit. It’s the second year in a row that Hiawassee received this rating.

The 2020 audit showcased how city revenues dropped and expenditures increased for the year too. Revenues were down $55,012 (5.4 percent). Expenditures were up $73,922 (8.8 percent).

The following revenue areas decreased for the year:

  • Motor Vehicle Tax – $49,779
  • Franchise Tax – $12,447
  • Intergovernmental Revenues – $56,457

However, four departments increased revenue:

  • Property Tax – $13,360
  • Local Option Sales Tax – $10,402
  • Alcohol Beverage Tax – $6,296
  • Fines, Fees, and Forfeitures – $24,352

On the expenditure side, the administration increased by $82,997 due to capital outlay.

The unassigned fund balance grew from 2019 to 2020 to $389,653 or 47.6 percent of expenditures. The city has 5.1 months of operating expenses on hand in case of emergencies. It’s recommended to keep at least three months of expenditures stored away.

Copy of the Hiawassee general fund 2020 audit.

In 2020 the city also paid off one loan in the amount of $697,996 and paid $287,585 in principle on other loans. Since 2017, they reduced the debt by 41 percent. Currently, $2,694,778 in debt is still outstanding.

Hiawassee received $47,000 in CARES Act Funding, $3,000GMA Safety Grant from LGRMS, $68,000 USDA Rural Development Grant for the Paris Building, $17,000 LMIG grant from GDOT, and $8,000 mural grant.

Water and Sewer

The water and sewer operating revenue grew by $279,015 (14.4 percent).  $114,559 came from a payment made by the water treatment plant. According to Rushton and Associates CPA Chris Hollifield, the remaining amount, $164,456 came from revenue growth.

Operating expenses for 2020 increased by $69.352 (4.2 percent). From 2019 to 2020, operating income shot up by $209,663.

Water Treatment Plant

Revenue for the water treatment plant decreased by $12,211 (1.65 percent) and expenses increased by $192,110 (46.4 percent). The payment made to water and sewer accounted for the majority of the change. In 2019, the water treatment plant made $327,838 in income. In 2020, the plant’s income was $123,512.

Copy of 2020 water and sewerage fund audit.

Police Year in Review Report

In 2020, Hiawassee Police Department filed 274 reports, issued 308 warnings and 325 tickets. It made 75 arrests: 10 misdemeanor drug offenses, 18 felony drug offenses, 44 other misdemeanors, and 3 felonies.

Towns tenth in the nation for new COVID-19 cases

News
LIz Ordiales Towns Covid-19

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales attended a Georgia Municipal Association conference call where Emory doctors and CDC officials warned Towns County and Georgia COVID-19 numbers were trending in the wrong direction.

“Georgia’s below the national average in testing. They’re higher than the national average in positive cases – 120 percent higher than we were in April,” Ordiales explained. “The rural counties are the worst hit.”

Towns County was ranked number 10 in the nation for increases and bad results and number one in new COVID-19 hospitalizations. In the last week, Towns confirmed 62 new cases with a positivity rate of 17.8 percent. The target rate for COVID-19 is five percent.

Chatuge Regional Hospital is currently full. Ordiales asked everyone to be careful because there’s no room at the hospital. The ICU and regular rooms are booked at Union General Hospital. Georgia hospitals are facing three issues: space, stuff, and staff. All three are running low.

“Their biggest concern now is they’re going to have to place less care on folks, “Somebody who is 90 who is sick do they really transport them because they have nowhere to take them.”

Emory and CDC condemned the vaccine rollout, stating that some vaccines in the state were wasted due to the lack of people available to receive the vaccine. As of Tuesday, 95,706 Georgians had taken their first COVID-19 shot. Both Pfizer and Moderna are a two-shot vaccine.

Follow the guidelines of gatherings of no more than 50 people and six feet of separation urged the local hospitals.

Election and qualifying fees were approved for the 2021 elections.

Hiawassee also paid off the remaining balance for a $1.2 million loan with a 4.375 interest rate. The city had paid $850,000 in interest with 18 years left on the loan. Hiawassee saved approximately $500,000 in interest.

Water intake repairs to cost city over $200,000

News

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Hiawassee City Council approved $239,274 to fix the water intake process after one of the floatation devices broke.

The city of Hiawassee uses Lake Chatuge as its water source and processes it through the Rowe Canupp treatment plant. The floatation devices used to aid in the intake of lake water have broken. The city needed to rent a barge to restore the intake properly. The entire repair process will cost the city $239,274. $229,500 will go to the barge and crane rentals as well as lifting the intake out of the water. The equipment and replacement cost is $3,800 and $5,900.

“What they have to do is bring in a barge big enough to put a crane on to, then left up the whole intake 12 feet and replace and fix the bottom of it,” Mayor Liz Ordiales explained.

The water intake is supposed to sit 12 inches above the water, but right now, it’s just 6 inches.

“Unfortunately, we tried looking around. We’ve been working on this for a month,” added Ordiales. “We can’t find anybody who does this type of work.”

The city even investigated airbags to lift the intake out of the water, but it would provide enough height for the restoration process.

The only reason the city could secure the repairs was because of a similar structure under construction in Gainesville. The company can move the equipment up to Hiawassee and fix the intake. However, transportation of the barge requires for it to be disassembled and reassembled upon arrival in Hiawassee. 

The current water intake has two styrofoam floatation devices sitting on top of each other. Those styrofoam devices separated, and the bottom piece broke.

“They should have never put two of those things together, number one, and that is like a boat dock. Well, it’s a water intake. It’s got all these hoists and pumps and all that kind of stuff,” said Ordiales.

The crane and barge could look similar to this example, but smaller.

The mayor conceded it’s a lot of money for repairs, but the city’s operating funds can handle the expense.

“We’re okay,” confirmed Ordiales, “Of course, it will make a gigantic debt, but that’s okay.”

Since Ordiales received the total cost of the project just before the city council meeting, she will work to bring the price down if possible.

The council also extended the sewer moratorium for another three months.

New City of Ethics Board Member appointed 

Ordiales selected Alan Fickle to serve on the city of Hiawassee’s Ethics board as a replacement for Susan Phillips.

Alan Fickle taking the oath of office for the city board of ethics.

Fickle moved to South Georgia with his wife in the 70s from Indiana before retiring in Hiawassee.

“My wife took note of this beautiful location… and said this is where [she] wanted to retire, and thankfully we did,” Fickle added.

A member of Christ the King Church, Fickle is active in religious activities. He previously was involved with the National Day of Prayer.

“We’re really happy and really fortunate to have Mr. Fickle. He’s a really nice guy. He comes to all of our meetings. We’re sorry to see Susan go, but she wanted to be closer to her family,” said Ordiales.

Susan Phillips moved to Pennsylvania with her husband.

Feature image courtesy of City of Hiawassee website.

Posted by City Of Hiawassee on Tuesday, August 4, 2020

Hiawassee approvals for sewer and Emergency Response come in April

News
Hiawassee coronavirus

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – After Mayor Liz Ordiales updated citizens on some statistics with the COVID-19 outbreak, the Hiawassee City Council met shortly for two items of motions/approvals.

Ordiales shared advice from Doctors saying that citizens should wear masks anytime they go outside and and come close to other people in the public.

The council approved all of its Consent Agenda items including Minutes from March 2nd Special Called Meeting-Court Clerk, Minutes from March 19th Special Called Meeting-USDA-RD Grant Application, Minutes from the March 3rd City Council Meeting, Minutes from March 30th Work Session, Minutes from March 30th Special Called Meeting, and the December and January Financials.

Additionally, final approval came for the city’s sewer ordinance. Going through the meeting as a second reading, approval was unanimous for the ordinance.

In the final item, the city approved a contract for Risk Assessments and Emergency Response plan for the city with EMI. The city contract approval came to $8,000 for the city. This, too, was a unanimous vote from the council.

The council ended the meeting reiterating the city should be following the shelter in place orders with one member reciting the common slogan, “Stay Safe, Stay Home, Save Lives.”

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