City Council declares Hiawassee a Purple Heart Community

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HIAWASSEE, Ga – The City of Hiawassee became a Purple Heart City following Towns County’s move to do so last month.

Veteran and Purple Heart Recipient Ryan McPherson continued his quest to add Northeast Georgia communities to the Purple Heart Trail and spoke about the importance of recognizing veterans at the work session.

“Here in Northeast Georgia, we’ve been underrepresented as far as places. Despite the fact that we’re a big veteran population, we seem to go above and beyond for all of our veteran community. The combat-wounded soldier appears to go underrecognized,” McPherson stated.

McPherson received his badge after being injured during a tour of duty in 2008 in Iraq. He’s semi-retired and moved to Union County from Marietta, Georgia.

“it’s great to have this officially, the proclamation. We’ll take this letter, up to the national chapter of the military order of the Purple Heart and it will go up on the map,” McPherson explained.

Mayor Liz Ordiales added that they have quite a few Purple Heart Recipients in Towns County and that the Military Order of the Purple Heart will be in attendance at the 9/11 tribute this year.

George Washington created the Purple Heart as a badge of military merit in 1782. He pinned it on three people. It was also the first American Service Award made available to the common soldier.

Ryan McPherson at the July Towns County Commission meeting.

In recent wars, thousands of soldiers received Purple Hearts:

  • 320,000 in World War I
  • Over 1,000,000 in World War II
  • 118,000 in the Korean War
  • 351,000 in Vietnam
  • 600 in the Persian Gulf
  • 12,000 in Afghanistan
  • 35,000 in Iraq

Towns County can now be recognized as a stop on the Purple Heart Trail which symbolically honors recipients across the nation.

“[It’s] a visual reminder to those who use our roadways that others have paid a high price for freedom for them to travel along those roads and to live in a free society,” McPherson added.

Military Order of the Purple Heart was established in 1992. It begins in Mt. Vernon, Virginia, and has designated sections in 45 states and Guam.

Qualifying for Hiawassee City Council election begins August 16

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Hiawassee City Hall planning development ordinance qualifying

HIAWASSEE, Ga – City of Hiawassee qualifying for the upcoming election begins on Monday, August 16, and runs through Friday, August 20 at City Hall.

The offices up for election in November are Mayor, Councilmember Post 1 and Councilmember Post 2.

The cost associated to qualify and be placed on the ballot for those offices are as follows:

  • Mayor – $708.00
  • City Councilman, Post 1 – $102.00
  • City Councilman, Post 2 – $102.00

Anyone interested in running for city council can turn in their paperwork and qualifying fee at City Hall from Monday, August 16 to Friday, August 20 from 8:30 a.m. till 4:00 p.m. The office is closed from 1:00 p.m. to 2 p.m. each day.

Payment of qualifying fees may be made by check, cash, money order, or cashier’s check.

Qualifying packets are currently available at City Hall.

The election will be held on November 2, 2021. Anyone interested in voting in the municipal election which also has a package store measure on the ballot, has until October 4, 2021, to register at the Towns County Board of Elections and Registration.

Advance (Early) Voting begins on October 11, 2021 and ends on October 29th, 2021. Advance Voting will be held at the office of the Towns County Board of Elections and Registration from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. including two Saturdays, October 16th, 2021, and October 23rd, 2021.

The election will abide by the new integrity laws passed earlier this year by the governor and general assembly.

Traffic concerns raised about planning development ordinance change

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Hiawassee City Hall planning development ordinance qualifying

HIAWASSEE, Ga – Members of the public voiced several fears about the proposed planning development ordinance density change.

The new ordinance would allow one acre or large lots to place more units per acre with a maximum of four structures. Discussion about the ordinance update started after the presentation of the Mountain Views Townhome project from an outside developer.

The developer’s under contract for the five acres across from Georgia Mountain Vision Center. He plans to turn the two back acres into townhomes but only if the city changed the density ratio.

The city council’s been steadily moving along with the change, citing the importance of having housing available for young professional families. The proposed 16 townhomes would be three levels with a single car garage and either a two- or three-bedroom layout. The price starts at $230,000 and up.

Since the townhomes fall along Main Street and Ross Lloyd Road, developers must discuss the ingress and egress with Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). Currently, GDOTs will only allow a right in and right out from the proposed complex. Individuals won’t be able to make a left turn.

townhomes

Proposed Townhomes mockup

The public commented that the area is already difficult to turn onto the highway in that area and adding more cars that will have to travel up the road to then turn around will make it worse.

“A change in density for a project like this may look minuscule, but if you take this across the whole city that’s a big deal, that’s a [potentially] tremendous amount of congestion,” Rob Robbins stated.

The ordinance would apply to the entire city because Hiawassee doesn’t have a zoning policy in place.

Councilmember Amy Barrett argued that one couldn’t judge it across the entire city because few lots could accommodate a project like the townhomes, and most aren’t on the market. She also commented that Mountain Views can’t be compared to Hawks Harbor because Hawks Harbor is on the lake with astronomical asking prices and HOA fees. It also has other issues including poor building practices.

According to Barrett, these proposed townhomes are for families with children who need somewhere to live in Hiawassee. If people want to see more restaurants, coffee shops, or businesses, the area needs to accommodate those types of people. As the city continues to grow, these questions need to be addressed.

It doesn’t apply to lots smaller than one acre, but Mayor Liz Ordiales added Hiawassee has more one acre lots than many people realize.

“The developer is wanting to maximize density. He’s got an investment; I understand that, but that’s not your job, that’s his worry,” Robbins remarked. “Your worry is the taxpayers.”

Councilmember Nancy Noblet commented she wasn’t sure the units would even be built because of the high prices of construction. If the deal goes through, the developer might end up selling the property if construction prices continue to soar and materials are scarce.

Apparently, the next potential buyer in line for that property is storage units. Everyone agreed they don’t want more storage units on Main Street, but without a zoning ordinance, they can’t prevent storage units from going in.

The public hearing for the planning development ordinance change will be on June 17 at 6 p.m. at the Civic Center. The final discussion will be at the June 28 council work session, and the second reading at the July 6 council meeting.

Hiawassee 2021-2022 budget hearing scheduled

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HIAWASSEE, GA – The city council will hold a public hearing concerning the 2021-2022 budget on May 24 at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

The proposed Hiawassee budget is available for viewing at city hall and should also be available online.

The council is set to adopt the budget on June 1 and held the first reading on the budget during the May 4 meeting.

During the April work session, council member Amy Barrett asked about SPLOST projects. Specifically, she wanted to know if more details were available for the SPLOST approved economic development projects. Currently, the city hasn’t outlined economic development projects and only around $80,000 has been collected thus far.

“We really don’t have any money to spend yet, but it’s coming. And it was a substantial amount of money, but it’s over a 10-year period. It’s not we’re going to get $2 million now,” Mayor Liz Ordiales stated.

Ordiales didn’t believe any of the current SPLOST money has been spent, but any of it could go to approved SPLOST projects in the future.

Franchise fee is down $25,000 because Windstream stopped providing cable.

General expenses for regular employees is proposed to increase from $40,000 to $75,000. Barrett asked about the extra $35,000

Ordiales explained it as an allocation, and previously the city clerk, court clerk, and other salaries were split between different budgets due to their function. This year they made a change to the existing setup.

Feature image from TaxCredit.net.

Hiawassee City Council returning to in-person public meetings

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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

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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

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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

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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

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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.

Hiawassee approvals for sewer and Emergency Response come in April

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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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