HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The City of Hiawassee asked for the public’s “positive, serious” thoughts on the types of business they would like to see set up shop on Main Street, west of Hiawassee Town Square. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales announced the tentative purchase of Hiawassee’s two oldest buildings in late November, with Hiawassee City Council approving the purchase the following week.
The buildings’ appraisal was set at $135,000, Mayor Ordiales said on Nov. 25, although $36,000 was “donated to the city” by Dan Paris, reducing the city’s cost to $99,000. Ordiales expressed gratitude toward Paris, a local businessman who is assisting in the restoration of downtown Hiawassee.
Ideas ranged from a book shop to a pool hall and everything in between.
After many months of detailed research, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government revealed a five-year strategic plan for Hiawassee’s potential future on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, during a Town Hall meeting. The procedure of envisioned development was the result of numerous studies conducted between the institute and local leaders, business owners, and residents.
During the course of the study, community stakeholders listed what they felt was working well in Hiawassee, and what they believed could benefit from improvement. Positive aspects included the strong sense of community with a “small-town feel,” the city’s town square, and the location itself, brimming with natural amenities. Feedback on areas that could prosper from improvement consisted of advanced beautification efforts, occupation of vacant buildings and lots, improved traffic and transportation, and the promotion of business options.
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HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales recently shared what she enthusiastically deemed “the biggest news ever” with members of the city council and citizens.
“The City has just completed a close to purchase the two buildings between Anderson’s (Financial Service) and Victoria’s Attic. The two oldest buildings in the city. (City of Hiawassee attorney) Mr. Mitchell was here today and we finished all of the closing documents. Of course, that will be up for a vote on Tuesday,” Mayor Ordiales announced as a tentative deal at Hiawassee City Hall, Nov. 25.
The historic, vacant buildings are located on Main Street, east of Hiawassee Town Square, A component of Hiawassee’s five-year strategy includes revitalization of Hiawassee’s downtown district, and Mayor Ordiales promised that the dual structures will transition up to par.
The buildings’ appraisal was set at $135,000, the mayor stated, although $36,000 was “donated to the city” by Dan Paris, reducing the city’s cost to $99,000. Ordiales expressed gratitude toward Paris, a local businessman who is assisting in the restoration of downtown Hiawassee. “So that’s the price we will be approving on Tuesday,” the mayor told the council.
Mayor Ordiales additionally announced that Hiawassee’s strategic plan was selected for national recognition in March of 2020 at the Downtown Development Authority’s national convention in Washington D.C.
After many months of detailed research, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government revealed the five-year strategic plan for Hiawassee’s potential future on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, during a Town Hall meeting. The procedure of envisioned development was the result of numerous studies conducted between the institute and local leaders, business owners, and residents.
During the course of the study, community stakeholders listed what they felt was working well in Hiawassee, and what they believed could benefit from improvement. Positive aspects included the strong sense of community with a “small-town feel,” the city’s town square, and the location itself, brimming with natural amenities. Feedback into areas that could prosper from improvement consisted of advanced beautification efforts, occupation of vacant buildings and lots, improved traffic and transportation, and the promotion of business options.
The City of Hiawassee worked with the Carl Vinson Institute, a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia, which assists state and local governments in achieving their goals. Hiawassee received a $21,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant in 2017 to assist in the funding of the study. Steering committees were formed for the endeavor, and interviews and focus groups were held to sculpt the formation of the project.
HIAWASSEE, Ga.- Board members for the recently created Hiawassee Downtown Development Authority (DDA) were named per open records request sent last week to the city of Hiawassee by FetchYourNews (FYN), following activation of the DDA by Hiawassee City Council Tuesday, Aug. 6. A list of the individuals selected to serve on the authority was delivered to FYN by Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick via Joint Economic Developer Denise McKay.
The appointed DDA board of directors are as follows:
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales
According to Georgia Municiple Association (GMA), DDAs and their appointed boards are created to revitalize and redevelop the central business districts of cities in Georgia. DDA training provides local leaders with the skills and knowledge they need to ensure a healthy, vibrant downtown. According to the University of Georgia, DDAs have a range of powers which include: developing and promoting downtowns; making long-range plans or proposals for downtowns; financing (by loan, grant, lease, borrow or otherwise) projects for the public good; executing contracts and agreements; purchasing, leasing or selling property; and issuing revenue bonds and notes.
The DDA consists of a board of seven directors appointed by the municipal governing authority to serve four-year terms. Directors are appointed by the governing body, and must be taxpayers who live in the city and/or owners or operators of businesses located within the downtown development area and who are taxpayers residing in the county in which the municipal corporation is located, except that one director may reside outside the county if he/she owns a business within the downtown development area and is a resident of the State of Georgia. One director may be a member of the governing body of the municipal corporation. No less than four of the directors must be persons who either have or represent a party who has an economic interest in the redevelopment and revitalization of the downtown development area. Directors receive no compensation other than reimbursement for actual expenses incurred in performing their duties (O.C.G.A. § 36-42-7). All members of the board of directors, except for the director who is also a member of the city’s governing body, must complete at least eight hours of DDA training within the first 12 months of appointment to the DDA.
Advantages of creating an authority include:
- the ability of the municipal government to delegate responsibility
- to have a body that will assist in developing and operating a single purpose facility (such as water and sewer, parking facility, etc.)
- carrying out a focused public purpose, such as economic development
- financing a project through revenue bonds
- creates a way to have ongoing oversight of operations after initial development is completed
- their activities may be less influenced by politics
- there is some distance between the city and the authority, which is helpful if controversies arise.
Disadvantages to creating authorities include:
- authorities can become overly independent
- authority boards are often appointed to terms longer than those of the elected officials who appointed them
- they can become financially self-sufficient from the city from operations of the facilities they develop
- they are likely to be less responsive to public opinion and to local governments.
Despite the level of independence of authorities, municipal governing bodies do have oversight powers and controls, GMA explains. For example, the boards of all municipal authorities are comprised of members appointed by the city’s governing authority. For many authorities, a certain number of city officials are either required to serve or may be appointed to serve on the board. The activities of authorities must be consistent with those described in the local Service Delivery Strategy. The enabling legislation for some authorities specifically states that board members serve at the pleasure of the governing authority. Authorities typically have bylaws that govern their activities and describe their organization. Additionally, authorities are subject to open meetings and open records laws set forth by the state of Georgia.
FYN will continue to follow developments related to the newly-formed DDA. A meet-and-greet to provide an introduction between council members and the selected board was suggested by Mayor Ordiales at the Aug. 6 regular session, prompting FYN to request information on the assembly.
“A meet and greet has not been scheduled as this request and the meeting date, location and times have not been determined as of this request,” Economic Developer McKay responded via email. “When the DDA meets for the first time all this will be considered and on the published agenda. Proper notification will be given to the legal organization for publishing the meeting and agendas will be posted as required.”
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council tabled an agenda item Aug. 6, proposed by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, to purchase a used ice vending machine, not to exceed $25,000, for Mayors’ Park, located east of the city limits on State Route 76. The popular city park offers boating access to Lake Chatuge. Council members opposed taking action on the purchase at this time, citing concerns such as the high-dollar cost, maintenance upkeep, fear of vandalism, and the fishing season coming to a close as reasons to delay a decision until spring of next year.
“It was just brought to me as a good idea and a potential to get that ice machine,” Mayor Ordiales replied, adding that the cost of a new machine was estimated at $60,000. “We don’t have to get it now, but you know, it seems there might be an nice machine available for that amount of money. If we don’t want to do it, I’m okay with that. I don’t think the city is going to make any money off of it. It would just be a good service for the people who launch their boats there to get their ice there.” Ordiales included that although the potential purchase was not intended to be a money maker, the mayor believes the city would recuperate the cost of the vending machine within a year or two.
Hiawassee City Council approved a grease trap training and inspection contract for $5,500, updated utility billing and accounting software with Black Mountain Software which is not to exceed $25,000, Intercity Fund Debt Forgiveness for water treatment in the amount of $583,861, an extension of the Towns County Water Authority Service Agreement to begin billing additional water consumers for sewer usage, and Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Activation.
FetchYourNews is awaiting a returned records request from city hall containing the names of the members selected to serve on the DDA board.
Feature Photo: Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – FetchYourNews (FYN) met with Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, and Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby, along with newly-hired Economic Development Director Denise McKay, on the afternoon of Tuesday, Jan. 8, for an inquiry session pertaining to goals, and information on how sharing a single developer will work.
Towns County, the city of Hiawassee, and the city of Young Harris entered into a joint contract to share the expense and the fruits of McKay’s labor in expectation of bolstering area commerce. Funding will be divided equally between the county and dual municipalities, estimated at $20,000 per governmental entity, for a total amount of approximately $60,000.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales explained that implementing the UGA-Carl Vinson Institute of Government strategic plan is Hiawassee’s top priority.
“We’ve been talking about this for several years, and we feel that since we’re so small, all three of us, the county is not that big, the city of Hiawassee and Young Harris are about the same size, and it’s all small so there’s no need to have three different efforts going on at the same time,” Mayor Ordiales said, “So if we combine our efforts, and you know, go toward the same goal, and I think we all have the same goal. My plan to to take the strategic plan that you’ve all seen and go, execute. Check, check, check. (Young Harris) of course has different needs, the county has different needs, and I realize that this is a big strategic plan, that we’re not going to be able to do it all in a year. I get it. But the ones that we can do, we’ll do, and whatever (McKay) can do for my partners (Towns County, Young Harris) here, that’s the way we’ll rock on with that.”
FYN questioned whether the endeavor is associated with the Downtown Development Authority (DDA). Due to stipulations set forth by the state, Ordiales confirmed that a current affiliation does not exist.
“We’re going to try to pursue Main Street designation, and you know, do the easy stuff first,” Ordiales explained, “If we grow into a DDA, great. If we never get to a DDA, okay.
Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby offered input from her mutual standpoint.
“I don’t see (McKay) as the economic development person just for the county, (or) just for us” Mayor Gibby imparted, “So I see her as one person that we are all funding, right? For different needs. It was tossed around at one point, like, (Mayor Ordiales) and I tried, we wanted to have a joint development authority. Because of the way the rules are written in the state – and you all can get all of the rules – we couldn’t do that. Because we wanted to share, we wanted it to be informal sharing, but we can’t do that. So then in asking a lot more questions of people in the state, we just decided along with some advice, that because we are small, because none of us can’t afford one person per city-county, right? Then we can share the cost of one person who can help us achieve goals, right? So while we all have similar things that we need done, we can share.”
Gibby went on to explain that while McKay’s efforts will be divided, there will be times when concentration is focused specifically on the development of Hiawassee or Young Harris, relaying that due to updated infrastructure, the time is right for her city to set plans into action. “We’re at the place where we’re ready to bring people back together, bring the town back together, and we’re going to do that in the next couple of months, and kind of dust this off, update it, and get some priorities in place, and (McKay) is going to kind of help us with that piece, and what are our priorities, and what do we need to do.”
Economic Developer McKay voiced optimism in taking on the work necessary to serve the lofty mission.
In turn, Commissioner Bradshaw shared approval in the stated goals of the project.
“What is so neat about this, as (Mayor Gibby and Mayor Ordiales) said, is that it is a joint effort. It’s a partnership, and I’m so glad that we have the relationships that we can do that,” Commissioner Bradshaw added, “So if (McKay) lands a business to come into the city of Young Harris, I’m as excited as if it were coming outside of the city limits of Hiawassee and Young Harris. It doesn’t matter to me. It all benefits Towns County.” Bradshaw explained that he is looking at the big picture, leading to the decision to partner with the cities.
Feature Photo: (L-R) Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw, Economic Development Director Denise McKay, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Young Harris Mayor Andrea Gibby
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HIAWASSEE, Ga. – There is no denying that times are always changing, and the sleepy, little town of Hiawassee, Georgia, population 903, is on a fast track to follow suit. While transformation is inevitable and often welcomed with open arms, members from the community have begun voicing their views on what it could mean for the lower-income population, and ultimately, the indigenous culture that has inhabited Towns County for centuries.
The course of action that the city of Hiawassee plans to enact implores the question of whether gentrification is at play. While most people understand the process and effects of gentrification, many remain unaware that an actual term exists. Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as “the process of renewal and rebuilding, accompanying the influx of middle class or affluent people, into deteriorating areas that often results in the displacement of earlier, poorer residents.” In order for these areas to be revitalized, the areas must be essentially cleared out. This is achieved through the raising of taxes and service rates, often beyond the point of affordability.
During last year’s property tax increase hearings, Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett raised concern that senior residents on fixed-incomes are relocating due to heightened electricity costs, citing the city-imposed BRMEMC franchise “fee” as the reason given by the displaced. While the full council favored the franchise, the mayor’s proposal to reject the property tax rollback was ultimately defeated in a 3-2 vote.. On Jan. 28, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales divulged that a water rate increase is in the works, explaining that it has been six years since a spike last occurred.
On a cultural front, community concerns began to surface during a June town hall meeting, held in conjunction with the University of Georgia (UGA) Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which focused on a strategic, comprehensive project to sculpt the future of Hiawassee. While program participants overwhelmingly favored noble plans such as boosting tourism, advancing city beautification, and creating structured, economic growth, other suggestions raised eyebrows, particularly from the conservative population.
Leslie McPeak – a vocal, local business owner who was later exalted to the city’s Board of Ethics by Mayor Ordiales – suggested deviation from long-held traditions, including a reduction in the amount of gospel and country concerts hosted in the area, determination that shops open their doors on Sundays to boost economic reward, and an assertion that the city should steer clear from the “Bible-Belt stigma” that has prevailed in Towns County since its foundation.
Months later, when the strategic plan was completed and introduced at Hiawassee City Hall, McPeak publicly inquired whether eminent domain, a highly-controversial practice in which the government expropriates private property for public use, was an option to abolish what McPeak considered an unattractive local business. A representative from the Carl Vinson Institute responded that grants, rather, may be available to encourage compliance with the city’s aesthetic vision. Additionally, McPeak drew media attention during a previous council session by harshly critizing a Republican election rally held last July on Hiawassee Town Square.
In recent events, Mayor Ordiales, who has been repeatedly praised as “progressive-minded” by supporters – in collaboration with newly-hired Economic Developer Denise McKay – stated during the council’s January work session that the city holds ambition for private land to be purchased by developers to construct “affordable” apartment housing in order to retain the local youth once they enter the workforce. The topic was broached when a citizen in attendance skeptically called into question the city’s goals for current residents and business owners. Ordiales replied that workers will be needed to fill certain positions, listing boat mechanics and hospitality workers as examples, due to a projected influx of a population which will require such services. Unprompted, Ordiales concluded that $800 a month in rent is considered reasonable, retracting the amount to $700 after the council and citizens failed to express a reaction to the mayor’s initial figure.
Upon query from FYN, Economic Developer McKay listed the inceptive phase of the project that Hiawassee intends to implement, and according to McKay that includes improving the appearance of the outdated post office and sprucing the entrance to Ingles while seeking a grant for artists to begin painting murals throughout the city.
It should be noted that the revitalization and preservation of historic structures is listed in the city’s five-year plan, with Mayor Ordiales often referencing the Old Rock Jail Museum as a point of reference, a site entrusted to the Towns County Historical Society by former Commissioner Bill Kendall. Ordiales stated to Mountain Movers and Shakers Jan. 25 that two developers have shown interest in the vacant row of buildings on Main Street, west of the town square, although the structure located next to where Delco once stood will be demolished when purchased. Ordiales recited significant achievements in lowering the city’s inherited debt, acquiring numerous grants, and engineering a plan to improve the infrastructure – all critical components in expanding Hiawassee’s development – during the Movers and Shakers’ forum.
While a range of participants took part in the creation of the strategic plan, the contributors represent a small fraction of the population. The Carl Vinson Institute of Government described the project as a stepping stone, however, rather than an endeavor set in stone.
In sum, while economic growth and positive innovation is widely supported, it is the opinion of the author that the effect of particular politics and policies, left unchecked, has the potential to deteriorate the backbone of conservative communities, both fiscally and culturally. This is especially true if the public whom it affects remains disengaged from local happenings, and apathetic to eventual outcomes.
Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to convene on Tuesday, Feb. 5, for their regular meeting to adopt the city’s strategic plan, as well as hold a first reading to expedite future ordinances by consolidating readings into a single session.
Public comment is prohibited during regular meetings.
The next work session, which will allow citizen input, is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m.
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Fetch Your News is a hyper-local news outlet, attracting 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 Clay and Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week, reaching between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The City of Hiawassee, in cooperation with the City of Young Harris, and Towns County as a whole, arrived at a unified decision to employ an economic developer to assist in the creation and retainment of business-related endeavors in the area. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales introduced Denise McKay to the community during a town hall meeting on Dec. 4. The announcement corresponded with the revelation of a five-year tentative plan for Hiawassee’s future, designed from input from citizens and local leaders by the Carl Vinson Institute of Government.
McKay holds a decade of experience as the Main Street Manager of Commerce, Georgia, and Economic Development and Main Street Director of Hampton, Georgia. McKay graduated from Upper Iowa University in 2012, with a Bachelor of Science degree in Public Administration.
Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw addressed the joint initiative on Dec. 18. “The county is doing this as a pilot program,” Bradshaw explained, “We’re going to do this for one year to see how this lady works out for the county, and to see, to put it in simple terms, to see if we get our money’s worth.” Bradshaw quoted the cost to county taxpayers at roughly $20,000. Acquiring grants will be an additional task delegated to McKay.
Bradshaw stressed that his main objective is to provide ample economic opportunities for local youth who wish to remain in Towns County once they have entered the job market.
The commissioner plans to invite McKay to address residents and business owners during a public meeting, scheduled for Tuesday, Jan. 15, at 5:30 p.m. at the Towns County Courthouse.
Feature Photo Credit: City of Hiawassee