Hiawassee’s plans may encompass more than meets the eye

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.


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Hiawassee Mayor Candidate, Liz Ordiales, Explains Why She Wants to be the Next Mayor

Community, Politics

BKP sits down with Liz Ordiales, candidate for Hiawassee Mayor. She addresses several issues that have been discrepancies during her candidacy. Ms. Ordiales also tells viewers her reasoning for wanting to be the next Mayor of Hiawassee and gives us an insight to a few things she would like to accomplish if elected.

Check out the articles below that Candidate Ordiales addresses some issues with during this interview:


Hiawassee Council repeals BRMEMC Franchise Ordinance 3-1

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – What began as a decree unanimously adopted in early August ended on the evening of Tuesday, Dec. 5, during a regularly scheduled session of Hiawassee City Council.

A 3-1 vote in favor of the eradication of the controversial Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) Franchise Ordinance, adopted by the Board during special called meetings Aug. 8-11, 2017, took place before a full room of residents.

Outgoing Council members Jay Chastain Jr. and Rayette Ross repealed the mandate, followed by a veto from newly elected Councilwoman Nancy Noblet. Councilman Kris Berrong maintained his support of the ordinance, outnumbered by the majority. Mayor Pro-Tem Anne Mitchell, also a proponent of the bill which was initially brought to the table by former Councilwoman and soon-to-take-office Mayor-Elect Liz Ordiales, was not included in the vote per charter regulation.

The three opponents of the ordinance raised their concerns on past occasions regarding the effect the decree would impose on the taxpayers of Hiawassee. Although the city has the legal right to require a fee from BRMEMC for the usage of city land for power pole placement, council members Chastain and Ross retracted their approval once the realization of an additional line item, passed along on the bills of consumers, was confirmed by the electric company. Newcomer Noblet followed suit, rejecting the mandate.

Also on the December agenda was a recap of Light Up Hiawassee, a Christmas lighting event held on the Square on Dec. 2. A video presentation created by Chris Harvey, set to the tune of Winter Wonderland, was displayed and acting Mayor Mitchell expressed gratitude toward those who helped make the opening celebration possible. Nine golf carts participated in the first annual parade with first place for decor awarded to the shopkeepers of Always Christmas. The Red Cross provided cookies and hot chocolate, Ingles offered a cookie decorating booth, and Santa arrived via fire engine.

The discovery of a 1993 Tree City USA ordinance was brought to the public’s attention, dissolving the need for subsequent adoption.

Acting Mayor Mitchell recently attended a Small Cities Financial Conference in Cornelia, Georgia. Mitchell says the seminar provided “very, very good news” and hopes the Council takes advantage of future opportunities for learning.

Mitchell says she is happy to turn the reins back to Mayor-Elect Liz Ordiales in January, comparing the experience of leading the Council to “falling into a vat of boiling oil.”

Motions to approve the September financials, the 2018 holiday and meeting schedule, and the ratification of the Towns County Water and Sewer Authority contract were unanimously agreed upon by the Council.

Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith announced warrants have been issued for two individuals suspected in the armed robbery of Save-A-Lot on Thanksgiving Eve. A press release is expected once the arrests are secured.

The meeting adjourned without advancing to an executive session.

Hiawassee City Council meets for work sessions on the last Monday of each month with regular meetings held the following Tuesday at 6 p.m. at City Hall.


Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com


Hiawassee franchise ordinance scheduled for adoption

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council met for their monthly work session on Monday, Feb. 26, 2018. All council members were in attendance with the exception of Anne Mitchell, who participated via teleconference. The second reading of the franchise ordinance advanced without opposition and the final adoption is anticipated to take place during Tuesday’s regular session.

According to the terms of the ordinance, Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (EMC) must pay the city of Hiawassee a 3 percent fee of the gross sales of electric energy provided to customers within Hiawassee city limits. A 5 percent fee will be imposed on cable and fiber optic services. Blue Ridge Mountain EMC has informed that the fee will be passed along to residents, businesses, and county agencies located within the city’s boundaries as an additional line item. FetchYourNews obtained copies of current BRMEMC bills issued to county entities, located within Hiawassee’s perimeter. Based solely on a single month’s calculation, the proposed ordinance could potentially increase county expenses in excess of $1,600 per year.

Hiawassee City Hall

Hiawassee City Hall

The ordinance reads that the city has determined it is in the best interest, and consistent with the convenience and necessity of the city, to grant the franchise to provide for the transmission and distribution of electricity, including cable and fiber optic, within the territorial boundaries of Hiawassee. The ordinance goes on to say the franchise fee enacted upon Blue Ridge Mountain EMC, for the use and occupation of city property, will promote the health, safety and welfare of the public, stimulate commerce, and otherwise serve the public interest.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales announced during a previous council session that a new form of revenue is necessary due to the loss of Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax (SPLOST) funding. Mayor Ordiales says she spoke with representatives of the three largest Hiawassee establishments set to be impacted by the mandate: Chatuge Regional Hospital, Ingles grocery store, and McConnell Baptist Church. Mayor Ordiales relayed she received no opposition to the proposal. FetchYourNews (FYN) reached out to said establishments, seeking additional clarification on the once controversial issue. Ingles management declined to comment, Chatuge Regional Hospital did not respond to FYN’s request, and McConnell Baptist Church stated that while they neither endorse nor oppose the ordinance, there are concerns about the burden the hike may place on fixed and low-income residents.

The franchise ordinance was originally approved during a special-called meeting held in August of 2017. The decree was later repealed by now-former council members after local residents and business owners vocally rejected the mandate. A public hearing on the issue was held on Nov. 27, 2017. The ordinance was reintroduced to the city’s agenda in January, once newly-elected council members were sworn into office.

Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to convene at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, March 6, at City Hall.


Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com

Commissioner extends cable television franchise fee

Towns County news

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Towns County Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw signed a resolution on Dec. 31, 2018, to extend existing state cable television and video service franchise fees for unincorporated areas of Towns County.

Towns County will continue to collect a franchise fee at the rate of five percent of annual gross revenues generated by cable and video service providers, pursuant to the existing franchise agreements. The extension of the franchise tax will not increase the cost for cable television consumers.

A cable franchise fee is an annual charge by a local government to a private cable television company as compensation for using public property it owns as right-of-way for its cable.

Act No. 368, otherwise known as the Consumer Choice for Television Act, was passed by the Georgia General Assembly in its 2007 Session, and codified at Chapter 76 of Title 36 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated.

Councilman Motions to Repeal Franchise Ordinance on Election Night

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held their Regular Session shortly before the 2017 election polls closed on the evening of Nov. 7. A first reading to rescind the Franchise Ordinance, confirmed by Blue Ridge Mountain EMC to result in an additional line item on the future bills of Hiawassee citizens and businesses, was added to the agenda by Councilman Jay Chastain Jr.

The motion to repeal the controversial mandate was seconded by Councilwoman Rayette Ross.

Councilman Kris Berrong opposed the motion and declined a request for comment.

The motion passed 2-to-1.

Mayor Pro-Tem Ann Mitchell said in hindsight that she wishes the Council would have had more time to consider it.

The ordinance was adopted during Special Called Meetings held Aug. 8 to 11, 2017, less than a week after former Pro-Tem Liz Ordiales stepped down to run for Mayor.

“I’m really sorry this has become a community football,” Mayor Pro-Tem Mitchell told the community-packed room, “but it is a source of revenue that almost everyone in the state takes advantage of.” Mitchell suggested a public meeting to discuss the issue further, stating a second reading date is undetermined.

The crowd migrated to the Board of Elections building, located adjacent to City Hall, after the Council meeting adjourned to await the highly anticipated election results..

Liz Ordiales won the Mayoral post with a 70 percent lead over her opponent, Barry Keith Dearing. Ordiales’s crowd of supporters were overjoyed with the results, offering hugs of congratulations to Hiawassee’s newly elected Mayor.

Incumbent Councilman Jay Chastain Jr. lost his seat to Patsy Owens who garnered 62 percent of the votes.

“It is obvious the voters of the city of Hiawassee wanted a change,” Chastain said. “I wish the newly elected Council members the best. I want to thank the citizens for their 12 years of support.”

Nancy Noblet was elected to Post 5, securing her seat with a 55 percent lead over Anne Wedgewood.

Amy Barrett, the sole unopposed candidate in the race, will replace Post 1 Councilwoman Rayette Ross who chose to not seek re-election.

Liz Ordiales responded to FYN’s request for comment on her victory:

“Thank you for your support throughout this campaign,” Ordiales wrote. “It is a privilege and an honor to be a representative of our great city. I will not let you down and will always put Hiawassee first! Let’s get to work!”

Hiawassee City Council will be sworn into office on January 1, 2018.

Nancy Noblet sworn into Council, Hiawassee Franchise Ordinance Hearing takes place

News, Politics
Nacy Noblet Hiawassee City Council

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Councilwoman Nancy Noblet was sworn into office on the evening of Nov. 27 at Hiawassee City Hall. Although inauguration will not arrive until Jan. 2 for the remaining elected officials, Noblet is filling vacated Post 5, relinquished by Mayor-Elect Liz Ordiales.

City Clerk Cenlya Galloway swears in Councilwoman Nancy Noblet

Noblet told Fetch Your News she is happy to take her seat on the council. “I know I will never make everyone happy,” Noblet said, “but I will always try to do what’s best for the city.”

Old business included the announcement of Light Up Hiawassee, a Christmas celebration on the City Square, and unanimous council approval to include the Towns County Water Authority contract on next week’s regular meeting agenda for voting.

New business involved a decision to delay the adoption of a Tree City ordinance until liability concerns are addressed. According to Mayor Pro-Tem Ann Mitchell, Hiawassee has unofficially been a Tree City for 22 years, but an ordinance is required. City Attorney Thomas Mitchell says the adoption is expected to take place prior to Arbor Day, which falls on Feb. 16, 2018.

The speed zone ordinance was briefly discussed, with confirmation the Department of Transportation will not allow Hiawassee to change the speed limit on city streets.

A University of Georgia Vinson Council Retreat is scheduled for March 2-3, 2018. Planning retreats focus on issues such as goal-setting, conflict resolution, relationship building and communication with the media and citizens.

Hiawassee Light Up

Light Up Hiawassee takes place on Dec. 2

A public hearing regarding the controversial adoption of the city’s Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation (BRMEMC) franchise ordinance immediately followed the council’s work session. The upstairs meeting area was standing-room only, filled with citizens on both sides of the issue.

“Let’s be nice, ” Mayor Pro-Tem Mitchell began. “That is my expectation, that everyone plays nice.”

Josh Alexander was the first citizen to speak, stating that everyone wants to see the city grow, and BRMEMC has the right to pass the fee along. “I don’t think it’s fair to impose hardships, but I don’t think a dollar a week will impose hardships,” Alexander explained.

An average increase of $55 per year is expected, based on 897-kilowatt hours per residence, according to BRMEMC Director Roy Perren.

“(The estimate) is skewed low because of part-time residents,” Perren advised during a meeting held on Oct. 27, 2017.

Charles Nicholson, an opponent of the ordinance, disclosed he believes the decree will burden the disadvantaged citizens of Hiawassee, specifically the elderly and disabled. Nicholson went on to say he feels the mandate will be a disincentive for the businesses the city hopes to attract.

Nicholson inquired whether an established list of priorities exist for the funds the ordnance expects to generate.

“Off the top of my head, no,” Mayor Pro-Tem Mitchell replied, stating the Council has been in suspended animation. “We have a lot of plans to go forward, but the answer is no.” Mitchell later reminded the citizens the infrastructure is of utmost concern.

Mayor-Elect Liz Ordiales interjected that a new revenue stream is necessary due to the loss of SPLOST funding, adding, “The general fund is never positive. Never.”

Councilwoman Nancy Noblet asked how Hiawassee has survived all these years without an increase, expressing concern for residents on a fixed income. “Yes, it will hurt them,” Noblet asserted.

Resident Vince Cooper countered that revenue must come from somewhere, saying, “We’re losing growth, not gaining ground.”

Chatuge Regional Hospital Chief Executive Officer Lewis Kelley requested to speak, estimating the ordinance will burden the hospital and nursing home with a raised cost of $9,686 per year, referring to the mandate as a tax before being corrected by acting-Mayor Mitchell. “It is a fee,” the Pro-Tem emended.

Lynn McPeak, owner of TATA on Main, offered an emotional stance, explaining there are programs available for people unable to afford the additional line item. “It’s time to step forward and begin to progress,” McPeak said.

City churches and county entities are not exempt from the ordinance. Concerns were raised as to whether the mandate will effect business prices, Ingles in particular.

L-R: Councilmembers Kris Berrong, Rayette Ross, Ann Mitchell and City Attorney Thomas Mitchell

L-R: Council members Kris Berrong, Rayette Ross, Ann Mitchell and City Attorney Thomas Mitchell

Mayor-Elect Liz Ordiales stated discussions with BRMEMC Director Jeremy Nelms are ongoing, saying she believes the company will accept the ordinance once it is rewritten to their satisfaction.

Nelms addressed the issue at the first open BRMEMC meeting on Nov. 16, maintaining his position will continue to stand that the decree is unenforceable. “EMC position remains that this ordinance is invalid since it requires the EMC to accept the terms and it also has the incorrect date,” the posted agenda read. Nelms said he has spoken with Ordiales, saying, “I’m sure she and I will spend more time discussing it.”

Hiawassee City Council convenes for their regular meeting on Tuesday, Dec. 5, at 6 p.m. at City Hall. All sessions are open to to the public, with the exception of executive meetings.

Fetch Your News has published the 2018 Meeting dates and City Holiday closings.


Fetch Your News is a hyper local news outlet that attracts more than 300,000 page views and 3.5 million impressions per month in Dawson, Lumpkin, White, Fannin, Gilmer, Pickens, Union, Towns and Murray counties as well as Cherokee County in N.C. – FYNTV attracts approximately 15,000 viewers per week and reaches between 15,000 to 60,000 per week on our Facebook page. – For the most effective, least expensive local advertising, call 706-276-6397 or email us at advertise@FetchYourNews.com



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