Hiawassee, Young Harris approve JDA; Towns County to follow

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Anne Mitchell - Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council unanimously approved the municipality’s Joint Development Authority (JDA) agreement last week, following a motion made by Councilmember Nancy Noblet, and seconded by Councilmember Patsy Owens, to “remove Manny Carrion and replace Joe Ruf.” The City of Young Harris activated its JDA on Feb. 4, with Councilmember John Kelley making a motion to approve the resolution creating the JDA, seconded by Councilmember Matt Miller, and approved unanimously.

Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw told FYN last week that county attorney Robb Kiker is reviewing its portion of the JDA, and adoption is expected to take place at the February commissioner’s meeting.

Each jurisdiction is allotted three board members, for a total of nine JDA directors.

Patsy Owens- Hiawassee City Council

Hiawassee Councilmember Patsy Owens at the Jan. 27 work session.

“It is hereby declared that there is a need for a joint development authority to function in and throughout Towns County, in the City of Young Harris and the City of Hiawassee, which county and municipalities are herein called Participating Jurisdictions,” the resolution reads. “Pursuant to the provisions of O.C.G.A. § 36-62-5.1, such joint development authority is hereby created and activated. Such joint development authority shall be known as the ‘Joint Development Authority of Towns County and the Cities of Young Harris and Hiawassee’ (the ‘Authority’). The Authority shall transact business pursuant to and exercise the powers provided by, the provisions of, the Development Authorities Law, codified in the Official Code of Georgia Annotated Title 36, Chapter 62, as the same now exists and as it may be hereafter amended. Section 2.”

According to the resolution, each of the members appointed shall serve an initial term commencing on the date of the creation of the Authority and expiring as set forth in two-to-six-year increments. After expiration of the initial term of each such appointed member, the terms of office of his or her respective successor shall be terms of four (4) calendar years and each such term of office shall be filled by appointment of the governing body that appointed the member whose term expired in accordance with the above requirements. If at the end of any term of any such appointed member, a successor to such member has not been appointed, the member whose term of office has expired shall continue to hold office until his or her successor is appointed, which appointment shall be for the balance of the term being filled. If a vacancy occurs in the case of any such appointed member, the governing body of the Participating Jurisdiction that appointed such member shall appoint a successor to serve for the balance of the term being filled in accordance with the requirements.

Development Authorities 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.

Featured Image: Hiawassee Councilmember and Mayor Pro-Tem Anne Mitchell at the council’s January work session.

Downtown ‘blight’ raises question of eminent domain

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Downtown Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Plans for two Hiawassee buildings are steadily progressing, with Hiawassee City Council scheduled to vote Tuesday on a Blight Resolution proposed by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales earlier this week. The City of Hiawassee recently purchased the historic structures, located just west of town square, for the purpose of downtown redevelopment.

Click to read Hiawassee solicits business ideas for purchased buildings

“We did Environmental Phase One and Two studies and there was nothing wrong with the buildings. They even did soil surveys and found that there was acetone in there,” Ordiales said during the monthly Mayor’s Report at city hall. “They said, ‘But yeah, you don’t even have to worry about it. It’s very minimal amounts, you can do what you want with the buildings.'” Upon inquiry from Councilmember Amy Barrett, Ordiales confirmed that asbestos testing was additionally conducted and that none was found.

Later in the Jan. 27 work session, listed as new business, the Blight Resolution appeared on the council’s agenda.

“In order for us to apply for big money for the remodel of those old buildings, we have to declare them blight and like, falling apart,” Ordiales said. “And once we get that we can apply for (what) they call Community Development Block Grants…and if it’s a blight building and we’ve deemed it to be a blight building, they give you more money. Well, certainly that’s a blight building. There’s nothing to discuss.”

Mayor Liz Ordiales

Mayor Liz Ordiales at the council’s Jan. 27 work session.

The Community Development Block Grant program is federally funded and “focuses on benefiting low- to moderate-income people by providing resources for livable neighborhoods, economic empowerment, and decent housing,” the Georgia Department of Community Affairs website explains.

Although the exact requirements of a blighted location widely vary, the City of Hiawassee has not released specific criteria. The following list, however, are common examples of blight:

•    Deteriorating and/or abandoned structures
•    Population loss or significantly changed population demographics
•    Defective street layout
•    Unsafe or unsanitary conditions
•    Lack of utilities or public works improvements
•    Environmental contamination of nearby structures or land

Hiawassee blight

An interior look at one of the Main Street buildings purchased by the City of Hiawassee.

FYN was contacted by a downtown business owner who questioned the city’s future intentions, concerned with the possibility of the resolution opening “Pandora’s Box” toward eminent domain. Research into the topic of blight, in fact, revealed a consistent connection to eminent domain land grabs.

In late-2018 when the five-year strategic plan was introduced at Hiawassee City Hall, an appointed ethics board member 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 the member 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.

Click to read Editorial: Hiawassee’s plans may encompass more than meets the eye

Following an announcement in August 2019 by Economic Developer Director Denise McKay that 209 properties had been identified by the city government as redevelopment sites, FYN filed an open records request to research the matter.

Click to read Residences on Hiawassee’s wish list for commercial development

The properties on the City of Hiawassee’s radar for redevelopment include numerous occupied buildings and several residential homes in the area. A full copy of the identified properties is available here: Rural Zone

“Though redeveloping blighted areas may seem like a positive step to many, it can cause major harm to landowners in these areas,” the law firm of Sever Storey, attorneys specializing in property rights, explained. “Additionally, the definition of ‘blight’ is often so vague that the government may try to seize property under the guise of blight when, in reality, the neighborhood is functioning and vibrant. One abandoned building should not mean that an entire block of homes should be seized from their owners and torn down, though studies have shown that the government often abuses its powers to condemn blighted areas.”

case study was released by the Institute of Justice after the organization became involved in an Elberton, Georgia, couple’s fight against the city to save their small business from an attempt to deem their town square building blighted. “Because eminent domain—especially quick take proceedings—can deprive people of their property, courts strictly construe eminent domain statutes to ensure property and due process rights. Strictly construing the power to take property for ‘public road and other transportation projects’ is also necessary to prevent Georgia governments from improperly invoking that power to avoid the important provisions of the Landowner’s Bill of Rights and Private Property Protection Act,” the Institute of Justice said.

While the issue of blight progressing into an eminent domain situation is unfounded, history has shown a concrete correlation between blight findings and eminent domain in the hands of Georgia municipalities.

Georgia’s constitution authorizes its counties and municipalities to establish a community redevelopment tax incentive program (Ga. Const. art. IX, § 2, para. VII). Those that choose to do so must adopt an ordinance that includes certain provisions.

Hiawassee City Council is set to vote on the Blight Resolution, Tuesday, Feb. 4, at 6 p.m. While the meeting is open to the public, citizen input is prohibited during the council’s regular sessions.

 

Hiawassee to purchase city’s oldest buildings

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City of Hiawassee

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.

Hiawassee Mayor - 2019

Mayor Liz Ordiales at the November work session.

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.

Click to view the City of Hiawassee’s strategic plan

 

Hiawassee designated an Appalachian Gateway Community

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Appalachian Gateway

Sponsored by the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) and the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA), the 3-day workshop provides participants with skills to capitalize on opportunities related to sustainable drivers for local economic development, cultural heritage, natural resource tourism, public arts promotion, and preservation with stewardship of community character. In addition to enhancing a community’s natural and historic assets, the role of the arts–particularly in revitalizing downtowns–is explored by community teams to assist in developing strategies to safeguard community character and drive local economic development.

Hiawassee mayor Liz Ordiales

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales

“For decades, local industry has relied on extracting Appalachia’s rich natural resources such as coal, timber, and gas,” the organization states. “Although these industries have historically provided a local job base, poverty has been a pervasive challenge in many Appalachian communities. In recent years the Appalachian region’s economy has become more diversified; yet, even with infusions of new types of industry, the region still does not reflect the economic status of the rest of the nation.

“With programming that has included targeted technical assistance, community tourism assessments, tourism planning workshops, and small grants for project implementation, the AGCI (Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative) focuses on communities that are entry points to some of Appalachia’s most important natural assets: national and state parks and forests. In addition to enhancing a community’s natural assets, the AGCI also emphasizes the role of the arts –particularly in revitalizing downtowns – in a comprehensive natural and cultural heritage tourism development strategy.”

Since 2007, The Conservation Fund’s Conservation Leadership Network, with ample support from the ARC and NEA, has led the Appalachian Gateway Communities Initiative to expand tourism, the arts, and other economic development opportunities for Appalachia’s gateway communities.

Downtown Development Authority brainstorms plan for Hiawassee’s future

News

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) met Monday, Oct. 15, at Hiawassee City Hall to plan the revitalization stages of the city’s economic structure. Joint Economic Developer Denise McKay, along with DDA Chairman Herb Bruce, Tamela Cooper, Maggie Oliver, and Lindie Wright were in attendance.

A beautification goal for murals to grace the sides of local businesses is progressing with two locations tentatively identified. The cost to the city of Hiawassee will amount to approximately $3,000, McKay said. Minor changes were adjusted in the DDA bylaws, and the fiscal year was adapted to coincide with the city of Hiawassee’s audit period of July 1 through June 30. DDA directors who do not attend four consecutive meetings will forfeit their position on the board. A quorum, defined as the minimum number of members of an assembly that must be present at any of its meetings to make the proceedings of the session valid, was determined to amount to the majority of DDA directors.

Objectives for use as marketing material were discussed in the form of a brainstorming session. DDA directors seemingly agreed that a “visually appealing city” would draw additional business to the area, aiding in the creation of a “cute, little downtown.” The board members noted a need for after-hour businesses, such as restaurants and a tempered, nightlife atmosphere. City “walkability” was a factor in the forum. Activities for youth were mentioned, and target audiences from two separate age groups- 16 to 40-year-olds and 40 to 80-year-olds – were formed.

The city’s DDA was created to operate in conjunction with Hiawassee’s strategic plan. The future meeting schedule and ideas for activities and fundraisers were listed under new business. In addition to the members present at Monday’s session, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Teresa Andretta, and Judith Weible form the city’s DDA. Mayor Ordiales was out-of-town, and could not attend Monday’s meeting.

 

Feature Image: Hiawassee DDA Chairman Herb Bruce at the Oct. 15 meeting.

 

 

Hiawassee’s DDA schedules inaugural session

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DDA

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Directors of Hiawassee’s newly-formed Downtown Development Authority (DDA) gathered for a meet and greet with Hiawassee City Council Monday, Aug. 26. The DDA received information packets from Economic Developer Denise McKay, prior to the inaugural committee session scheduled for Monday, Sept. 16 at 6 pm at Hiawassee City Hall.

The selected DDA board of directors are:

  • Herb Bruce
  • Judith Wieble
  • Tamela Cooper
  • Lindie Wright
  • Theresa Andrett
  • Maggie Oliver
  • Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales

According to the Georgia Municiple Association, 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.”

DDA

A proposed concept for a vacant building on Main Street in Hiawassee’s strategic plan.

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 inaugural meeting will consist of the election of a DDA chairperson, co-chairperson, and a secretary-treasurer. New business will include a review, discussion, and tentative modification of the authority’s bylaws, enactment of the DDA contract, and the establishment of the committee’s future meeting dates and order of business. In addition, a directors’ update will take place with discussion of Hiawassee’s strategic plan and upcoming DDA member training.

DDA

DDA directors (pictured left) met with Hiawassee City Council and Economic Developer Denise McKay (pictured far right)

According to the Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the agency that assisted in formulating the city’s strategic plan, DDA training involves discussion of the responsibilities of development authority boards and the role that authorities serve within the local economic development process.

Basic training topics are listed as:

  • legal issues
  • ethics
  • conflicts of interest
  • open records and open meetings requirements
  • the basics of financing development authority operations
  • incentives
  • bonds
  • strategic planning in community development
  • project development and management
  • emerging issues that affect development authorities

Building upon fundemental knowledge provided by basic training, an advanced course allows board members to refine their skills while executing the comprehensive plan of action for the community.

Hiawassee DDA meetings, as well as Hiawassee council sessions, are open to the public.

Feature Image: A portion of Hiawassee’s Strategic Plan is to revitalize commercial real estate.

Credit: City of Hiawassee/Carl Vinson Institute of Government

 

 

 

City of Hiawassee plans public DDA meet and greet

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Hiawassee City Hall

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Seven directors were recently selected to serve on Hiawassee’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA), and the city has planned a public meet and greet with the appointed board members tomorrow evening, prior to the council’s 6 p.m. work session.

“On Monday, Aug. 26 at 5:30 p.m. there will be a special meeting (meet and greet) with the members of the newly formed Downtown Development Authority and the City Council of Hiawassee in the Council Chambers at City Hall,” City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick said. “Refreshments will be served.  At 6 p.m. the DDA will be presented with their information packages and date of first official regular meeting, Monday, Sept. 16, 2019 at 6 p.m. at Hiawassee City Hall.”

The DDA board of directors are:

Herb Bruce

Judith Wieble

Tamela Cooper

Lindie Wright

Theresa Andrett

Maggie Oliver

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales

According to the Georgia Municiple Association, 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.

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.

 

Hiawassee’s Downtown Development Authority Board of Directors Selected

News
Hiawassee City Hall

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:

Herb Bruce

Judith Wieble

Tamela Cooper

Lindie Wright

Theresa Andrett

Maggie Oliver

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.

Denise McKay

Joint Economic Developer Denise McKay serves Hiawassee, Young Harris, and Towns County

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.”

Archives on Downtown Development Authority

Archives on Rural Zone Designation

 

 

 

Residential areas on Hiawassee’s wish list for commercial development

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City of Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – As the City of Hiawassee continues its pursuit to activate and institute a Downtown Development Authority (DDA), establishing a geographical Rural Zone Designation for economic development is a key factor in the process. FetchYourNews filed an open records request with the City of Hiawassee following a public announcement by Economic Developer Director Denise McKay stating that 209 properties had been identified by the city government as potential redevelopment sites.

The properties on the City of Hiawassee’s list of proposed locations include numerous occupied buildings and several residential homes in the area. A full copy of the properties is available: Rural Zone  (Click to view document)

The DDA is primarily a policy-making and major decision-making entity that plans and manages the downtown area. The DDA is a corporate body recognized by state law, and it is eligible to receive certain grant funding, whereas, a local business or merchants association may not qualify. From an Internal Revenue perspective the DDA is considered to be governmental tax-exempt. The DDA can utilize a variety of financing tools outlined in the Official Code of Georgia. Funding created from the implementation of the measures can be used in a number of ways to bring about revitalization and economic development of the central business district.

Hiawassee City Hall

Hiawassee City Hall

The DDA can work with volunteers from the local business association, citizens, the city and county to
bring about the revitalization of the downtown area, or depending upon a set of criteria for qualification, a
DDA may choose to initiate a Main Steet Affiliate, as the City of Hiawassee has opted, or a Better Home Town Redevelopment Program.

The DDA must be activated by the city government prior to functioning. This is accomplished by first designating the downtown area boundaries with the city; appointing the initial directors of the authority; creating a resolution which also declares that there is a need for such an authority; pass the resolution, and file copies of the resolution with the Secretary of State and the Georgia Department of Community Affairs.

The DDA law states that the authority shall consist of a board of seven directors. The directors must be taxpayers residing in the county in which the authority is located. At least four of the directors must also be owners or operators of downtown businesses. Directors of authorities created under the DDA law are appointed by the governing body of the municipality. Directors will be required to attend and complete at least eight hours of training on downtown development and redevelopment programs.

Hiawassee City Council members are currently in the process of selecting and submitting their choice of board appointees to Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. Once the body is formed, the authority can undertake commercial, business, office, industrial, parking, or public projects if it claims to benefit the downtown district.

The following are powers that are specifically provided to the DDA created under the Downtown Development Authorities Law of 1981:

1. To sue and be sued.
2. To adopt and to change, as necessary, a corporate seal.
3. To make and execute contracts and other agreements, such as contracts for construction, lease or
sale of projects or agreements to finance projects.
4. To purchase and own property, real or personal, and to sell or otherwise dispose of property, lease or rent property. The authority’s property is tax-exempt.
5. To finance projects by loan, grant, lease or otherwise.
6. To finance projects using revenue bonds or other obligations of authority.

The establishment of Hiawassee’s Rural Zone Designation is expected in October. Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to adopt the Downtown Development Activation Resolution Tuesday, Aug. 6, at 6 pm at city hall.

Rural Zone  

Feature Photo Credit: City of Hiawassee/Strategic Plan

 

Hiawassee’s Downtown Development Authority activation postponed

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council - 2019

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council met for their monthly regular session Tuesday, June 4, passing a “Broadband Ready” ordinance, while delaying the Downtown Development Authority (DDA) Activation Resolution listed on the agenda. FetchYourNews previously reported on the scheduled activation.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales explained the broadband ready ordinance. “It’s just a matter of getting us ready for when they start funneling out money for broadband for rural areas; we are set on go, we are ready to go,” Ordiales said.

DDA activation was postponed due to an absence of individuals who will serve as board members. “The object is to see if we can find folks that live in the city that also have businesses in the city. That’s ideal,” the mayor said. “That’s going to be tough to find, but that’s the key, what we are trying to do.” Mayor Ordiales noted that Councilwoman Amy Barrett was the sole official who has submitted potential candidates to fill positions.

According to the Georgia Municipal Association, “a DDA consists of a board of seven directors who are appointed by the municipal governing authority to serve staggered four-year terms. Directors are appointed by the governing body and must be taxpayers who live in the city or they must own or operate a business located within the downtown development area. They must also be taxpayers who live in the county in which the city is located. One of the directors can be a member of the municipal governing authority. Board members do not receive any compensation for serving on the DDA, except for reimbursement for actual expenses incurred in performing their duties With the exception of a member who also serves on the city council, all DDA board members must take at least eight hours of training on downtown development and redevelopment programs within the first 12 months of their appointment to the DDA.”

The DDA resolution, as presented to Hiawassee City Council, follows:

A RESOLUTION TO DECLARE THE, NEED FOR THE  CREATION OF A DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY TO FUNCTION IN THE CITY OF HIAWASSEE, GEORGIA, PURSUANT TO THE PROVISIONS OF  THE DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITIES LAW O.C.G.A. Section 36-42-4, et seq. OF THE STATE OF GEORGIA; TO ACTIVATE SUCH DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY AND APPOINT A  BOARD OF DIRECTORS FOR SAID DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY; TO AUTHORIZE SAID DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY TO EXERCISE THE POWERS CONTAINED IN  SAID DOWNTOWN DEVELOPMENT AUTHORITY LAW; TO PROVIDE FOR NOTICE TO THE SECRETARY OF STATE OF THE STATE OF GEORGIA AND THE GEORGIA DEPARTMENT OF COMMUNITY AFFAIRS OF THE ADOPTION OF THIS RESOLUTION; TO REPEALS CONFLICTING RESOLUTIONS; TO PROVIDE FOR AN EFFECTIVE DATE AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES;

WHEREAS, the Mayor and Council have determined that it would benefit the city of activate the Downtown Development Authority for the City of Hiawassee, and

WHEREAS, the Mayor and Council, after thorough investigation, have determined that it is desirable and necessary that the Downtown Development Authority of the City be activated immediately, pursuant to the Downtown Development Authorities law;

NOW THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED by the Mayor and Council of the City of Hiawassee, and it is hereby resolved by the same, that there is hereby determined and declared to be present and future need for a Downtown Development Authority (as more fully described and defined in the Downtown Development Authorities Law) to function in the City of Hiawassee.

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that there is hereby activated in the City the public body corporate and polite known as the “Downtown development Authority of the City of Hiawassee the following named persons;

 

Name:                                                                                  Term:

Two Years

Two Years

Four Years

Four Years

Six Years

Six Years

Six Years

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED That the Board of Directors hereinbefore appointed shall organize itself, carry out its duties and responsibilities and exercise its powers and prerogatives in accordance with the terms and provisions of the Downtown  Development Authorities Law as it now exists and as it might hereafter be amended or modified;

 

BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the “Downtown Development Area” shall align with the proper city limits as it now exists and as it might hereafter be amended or modified;

 

BEIT FURTHER RESOLVED that the City of Hiawassee shall promptly furnish to the Secretary of State of the State of Georgia a certified copy of this resolution in compliance with the provisions of the Downtown Development Authority Lay;

 

Be IT FURTHER RESOLVED that any and all resolutions in conflict with this resolution be and the same are hereby release;

BE IT FURTHER Resolved that this resolution shall be effective immediately upon its adoption by the Mayor and Council of the City of Hiawassee and from and after such adoption the Downtown Development Authority of the City of Hiawassee shall be deemed to be created and activated.

 

Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to meet for their monthly work session Monday, June, 24 at 6 p.m. Work sessions are held in the upstairs training room at Hiawassee City Hall. Meetings are open to the public.

 

Commissioner Bradshaw talks economy, jobs, and “small town feeling”

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Towns County SPLOST

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw opened his monthly meeting, Tuesday, June 18, with  an update on the county’s financial health. “Right now, the sales tax collections are up around $28,000 from what they were this time last year, so we’re very thankful for that. We give that to a good economy. We give it to many people trying to do many things to promote our county, have events, and bring  people here, and they spend money, and have a great time. They leave and then it’s longing to come back here again, and they do, and a lot of them come back and build a house or buy a house, and that’s what it’s all about, so were very thankful.”

Towns County Commissioner

Towns County Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw

Commissioner Bradshaw noted the proven economic contributions of Candace Lee of the Towns County Chamber of Commerce, who was in attendance, and officially introduced Denise McKay, who serves as the economic developer for Hiawassee, Young Harris, and Towns County as a whole, praising McKay’s initial efforts.

“Jobs are very important and this is the whole plan…,” Commissioner Bradshaw went on to say, emphasizing the appeal of a “small town” essence, including a desire to deter younger generations from relocating from the area due a lack of employment options. “But I do feel like it is our job as county government to try to promote businesses, and try to promote some growth so that we can provide job opportunities, and that’s what Denise is here for. However, and she understands, and she likes it here, that’s why she moved here, but we don’t want to lose the small town feeling.” The commissioner concluded that his pressing goal is to fill vacant buildings and empty lots within the county with economic opportunities, beneficial to all.

 

Commissioner, mayors, economic developer meet to discuss joint plan

News
Towns County economy

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

 

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’s plans may encompass more than meets the eye

Opinion
Hiawassee tax

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.Towns County news

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.

In-depth information on the above, highlighted text can be found by clicking the links.

 

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.

 

 

Towns County joins Hiawassee and Young Harris in hiring economic developer

News
City of Hiawassee

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.

Denise McKay

Denise McKay

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

Hiawassee’s strategic plan moves forward, sign ordinance discussion continues

News, Politics
Hiawassee economy

HIAWASSEE, Ga.- Slightly more citizens than usual turned out at the council’s regular session at Hiawassee City Hall Tuesday, Feb. 5, to hear the five elected officials’ verdict on several issues, including the wastewater expansion bid, a pending sign ordinance, the city’s five-year strategic plan, and a proposal to expedite the adoption of future mandates.

Mayor Liz Ordiales opened the session by reminding the public that comments are not permitted during regular sessions, rather work meetings are the proper time to offer citizen input as they are “informal” gatherings. “That is the place for all kinds of public input,” the mayor said.

Concerning the sign ordinance, council dialogue revolved primarily around banner advertising. After lengthy discussion, the council resolved to amend the tenative ordinance, eliminating a $15.00 fee for businesses to hang banners, and removing the verbage pertaining to the amount of banners a business is permitted to display annually. A single banner, not to exceed 60 square feet in diminsion, is expected to remain in the decree. The council agreed that banners should be kept in presentable condition. An extended sign permit moratorium remains in place while the council reconstructs the ordinance.

Liz Ordiales

Mayor Liz Ordiales outlining the strategic plan before the Mountain Movers and Shakers Jan. 25

Later in the session, Hiawassee City Council unanimously adopted the city’s 2019-2024 revitalization plan. Upon motion from Councilwoman Anne Mitchell and a second from Patsy Owens, Councilman Kris Berrong initiated discussion, explaining that he, along with community members, harbor hestitation. “Concerns of a few that have the strategic plan, and me, personally, I think that we need to talk about it a little bit more. I’m for a lot of it, but we kind of went over it one time with (Georgia Municiple Association) and that was about it,” Berrong relayed.

“But you have a copy,” Councilwoman Anne Mitchell interjected. “I do,” Berrong replied, adding that he was not confident in exactly what might occur when Mitchell pressed. Council members Amy Barrett and Nancy Noblet offered that they had spoken with business owners who had voiced similar concerns.

“This would serve as a document for us to use as a guideline for what we want to do in the city,” Mayor Ordiales said, “This was not our input; this was not the University of Georgia’s input. These are the people in the city who came to our focus groups, who came to the one-on-one interviews, who came to the town hall meetings.”

When a local business owner’s concerns were specifically outlined by Council member Amy Barrett during the session, Mayor Ordiales stated that the owner in question was invited to participate in the focus groups and declined the offer. FYN contacted the business owner the following day and was surprised to learn that the owner had, in fact, attended a focus group, but did not recall receiving any type of follow-up initiated by the city of Hiawassee.

Prior to the council vote, Noblet asked Economic Developer Denise McKay what the initial stage of the comprehensive plan will involve. McKay responded that “basic landscaping and hopefully painting” the post office, beautifying the entrance to Ingles with foliage, and improving the town square are the city’s starting points, explaining that the projects are “fairly easy and inexpensive to do.”

During the council’s work session the week prior, McKay listed public art in the form of murals as the third project, rather than the town square, when FYN publicly inquired into the initial three-fold plan.

A resolution to award the wastewater expansion project to SOL Construction, the lowest bidder, was approved by the full council during the meeting. Mayor Ordiales projected completion by fall of this year.

The session concluded with 3-2 rejection of the mayor’s proposal to enact single-session ordinances. Additional information on the issue is available by clicking this link.

Hiawassee City Council assembles for their monthly work session Monday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m.

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