Hiawassee’s DDA schedules inaugural session

News
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

 

 

 

Residential areas on Hiawassee’s wish list for commercial development

News
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 scheduled to activate Downtown Development Authority

News
City of Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council, in cooperation with Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales and Economic Developer Denise McKay, are scheduled to activate the city’s Downtown Development Authority (DDA) during their regular session, Tuesday, June 4, at Hiawassee City Hall.

According to FYN’s research into DDA board member training, the governing body of the city “activates” the DDA via an “activating resolution.” The General Assembly has already created a DDA for each Georgia municipality, although the DDA cannot transact any business, nor exercise any powers, until the city activates it. In the activating resolution, the city must designate the city’s downtown development area – which consists of the geographical jurisdiction of the DDA –  and appoint initial directors.

“Wouldn’t it be nice to have every, single storefront filled? That’s my target,” stated Mayor Ordiales last week at the “Eggs & Issues” breakfast meeting.

Downtown Development Authorities (DDA) 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.

Furthermore, a “Broadband Ready” ordinance is scheduled to go before the council Tuesday evening.

Hiawassee City Council convenes on the last Monday of each month for work sessions, followed by regular sessions the following Tuesday, at 6 p.m. Meetings are open to the public.

Towns County native delivers passionate speech at Hiawassee City Hall

News
Becky Landress

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held their monthly work session Feb. 25, 2019, and Hiawassee City Hall was filled to rare capacity with citizens invested in the county seat’s future. Following the business portion of the meeting, public comments were accepted.

What follows is a speech, in its entirety, delivered by Towns County resident Becky Landress. FYN tracked Landress after the meeting to request a copy. The public address followed an article published by FYN earlier this month.

“Ladies and Gentlemen, Council and Ms. Mayor;
Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Becky Landress. I am a resident of this county and have been my entire life. Despite what a lot of progressive, move in residents feel, I am not uneducated, nor have I been sheltered by small town life. I have a background in journalism and the reason I have stayed in Towns County has much to do with a lot of what has been mentioned as a potential for change. My family is one of the main components, which is not on the table of change, thankfully; although the rest may be.

“My roots run deep. I am proud to know many of the families that make up my community. Families I went to school with, or that taught me, or that have children that have grown up along side my own children. Although finding a job in this area that would fulfill my family’s needs was near impossible, my husband and I made it work for the other benefits. He drove back and forth from Gainesville for over seventeen years to provide for us. He would leave before daylight and often get home well after. We still chose to stay put for the benefit of our children; a good school system, recreation for our children, small town feel, and a value system that mimicked those of our neighbors. Today, I don’t believe we would make that same decision.

“Families are moving away, and others are not moving in. Jobs are still scarce and now recreation programs are almost non existent for children. Our surrounding communities still have recreation programs for children running full force and most importantly, no one is questioning their “Bible Belt stigma”.

“Our traditional values are being questioned by business owners that moved to our area, with those very values in play. Those “progressive” business owners somehow have a voice with this council although they were not elected by anyone in the area. They want to change our “Bible belt stigma” and even want to dictate what music should be welcomed by our area. I’m sorry, but as a native of this area, I find these voices have no business being heard by those of us that were here long before them and didn’t ask their opinion, although this is the make up of your “ethics” board. Really? Calling a political party names and associating them with one of the most horrific groups in history is not someone I would nominate to divise up any board with the word ethical in the description.

“Ms. Mayor and members of this council, I don’t reside within the city limits of Hiawassee but I should, along with every tax paying citizen in this county, have a voice. When people were invited to help divise the five year strategic plan, and boards were made up, they were a make up of a small amount of people that actually represent the vision of most residents. I realize you are a City Council and those that do not live within city limits don’t have a vote, but we should have a voice. No one can live in this county and not have a vested interest in the happenings within Hiawassee. This is where we do our grocery shopping, school clothes shopping with our children and main street is the road we travel to take our children to school everyday, or better yet, church on Sunday. It is the road I travel down to arrive at our small business on the outskirts of town.

“Let’s be honest here, if a five year strategic plan is in place, an aesthetic vision should be one of the components, but not the main component. When hiring an economic developer, as we have, we should feel in line with the words of our county commissioner, “we will try it for one year”. He also has a vision focused on families, instead of primarily community beautification.

“Ms. Webb’s article brought my attention to a lot of things I was unaware of beforehand. I believe many residents weren’t aware of most of the things addressed in her article. Since the article, I have been to the City’s website and studied each slide in the newly adopted strategic plan. I have read about all the previous meetings leading up to that point and I have gained much respect for three members of this council for representing the districts that appointed you.

“The mayor reached out to me through a message and asked me to meet with her to discuss my concerns after me and many others read the article covering last month’s council meeting, and we expressed our ill feelings of many things, most of which was said by a member of the ethics board. We didn’t appoint her to anything and she wasn’t elected by the voters of this City. If she feels the Bible Belt stigma is not her thing, Highway 76 will take her to a city on either side of Hiawassee. Let’s see if that proposition would hold water in either of those communities.

“Honestly, I had never heard of the term “gentrification” before Ms. Webb’s coverage, but I have studied the strategic plan, read about proposed water bill increases, additional proposed taxes and much more. I also have come to the conclusion that gentrification is at play.

“Ms. Mayor, please take note of the wishes of the community you moved in to. The community that welcomed you and even elected you to office. Look back over our history and listen to families. We are not worried about which bag we need to carry out of Ingles. We know our post office is outdated and we also see way too many vacant buildings. Know that many of us remember when those buildings were full. We remember in the late 80’s and early 90’s when there were several stores for ladies to shop for a new purse at. There was one for several decades right here in the center of town and another about a mile down the road, also in city limits, as well as one where those unsightly vacant buildings are across from the grocery store. We remember when restaurants were jumping in the summer and still able to keep their doors open in the winter. A face lift on the post office would be nice but that isn’t as pressing as many of our concerns.

“Focus on a future. Please, focus on getting families here. Possibly incorporate a small playground on your strategic plan. That would look great on the square, near the gazebo. It would work wonderfully with a bunch of new retail stores and restaurants all along the square. We are the only City in our area that doesn’t have shopping and dining around our square. Instead we have insurance and financial. Look into getting stores and restaurants around the square. There are plenty of open spaces and where they are not, try to open up the right businessess in the right spot. If you can accomplish that, families would have a reason to park and walk around Hiawassee, like the visual slides of the strategic plan. If not, there is no reason for additional parking or crosswalks. If you can do that, families would not only fall in love with Hiawassee for the beauty of our lake and mountains and our nice new post office and lovely trees, but they would know we aren’t a retirement ghost town, unwelcoming to families and their needs. They would have no reason to feel Blairsville or Rabun County would be better suited for them because their are more recreation programs for their children and places to dine and shop. With families, comes jobs.

“We can all agree tourism dollars are vital for our area but it’s time we all also agree that our future should not be geared toward retirees moving in. We need to be diverse. We need to bring back the necessities that those that are still working, paying bills, shopping and raising children need. The thoughts and feelings of a select few you have heard over the past few months is not the voice of this community as a whole. I feel you know that. You must know that. Since we can’t vote in city elections without being a resident within city limits, you may be finding an influx of residents moving into city limits and I promise you, it won’t be for the lovely new murals.

Thank you for your time.”

Emotions ran high following Landress’ passionate speech, and Hiawassee Councilwoman Patsy Owens reacted to the speaker’s remark pertaining to respect for unnamed council members. Owens expressed heated dissatisfaction with FYN’s reporting, with Councilwoman Nancy Noblet soon thereafter publicly stating that she did not appreciate Owens referring to the council woman in an alleged, offensive term. Noblet later said that she respects Owens and her fellow council, and while they may not always agree, she will continue to support the mayor and council members when she believes that they are doing the right thing for the citizens. Noblet stressed that she ran for a seat on the city council to serve the people. “I don’t go to any other council member and say ‘This is how I’m going to vote. You need to vote this way.’ I don’t do that. I’ve got a conscience of my own.” Noblet referenced her strong Christian faith, and said that she publicized the meeting on social media beforehand to encourage the high turnout.

Additional citizens voiced their views on varied subjects, ranging from hope for additional youth recreational activities, a desire for a local dog park, and the group seemingly agreed that more economic opportunities are important for the area.

Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett thanked everyone who attended, saying, “We’re a community. We’re a diverse community. We need everybody involved.” Council members Ann Mitchell and Kris Berrong were present, although they did not offer input during the public portion of the forum.

Following Landress’ speech, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales invited the Towns County native to meet privately in order to discuss concerns, and the mayor encouraged the public to attend future meetings so that their voices can be heard. Mayor Ordiales stated that she has an open door policy, and that has proven to be the case throughout her term, according to citizens’ reports and FYN access. Additionally, Ordiales relayed earlier in the meeting that she is making a steady effort to visit local business owners to become better acquainted.

One regular attendee shared that the City of Hiawassee as a whole has positively advanced in recent years, with another citizen saying that she “sleeps better at night” knowing that Mayor Ordiales is in office.

Mayor Ordiales remarked throughout the forum, reiterating that she believes that everyone is moving in the same direction. “I think it’s clear that everybody wants to do the right thing for the city,” the mayor said at one point, asking for the public’s patience. As the meeting adjouned, Mayor Ordiales invited the public to return to “hear the truth.”

A summary of the business portion of the Hiawassee City Council work session will soon follow this release, with a hyperlink added once it becomes available.

Hiawassee Police Department asks for community’s help with Yellow Dot Program

News
Hiawassee Police Department

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith is asking for the public’s assistance in fostering a program proven to save lives. Georgia’s Yellow Dot program offers an envelope packet to citizens over the age of 55, free of charge, for residents to list basic information that may be critical for first responders in the event of a medical emergency,

The Yellow Dot program is a partnership between the Georgia Department of Public Health and Georgia Department of Human Services Division of Aging Services. The program will initially supply 1500 packets, in increments of 500, to the City of Hiawassee for if the community shows increasing interest in the initiative.

Hiawassee Police Chief

Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith

Chief Smith is asking for local businesses, civic organizations, and area churches to partner with Hiawassee Police Department in the life-saving project. While the amount of envelopes offered may seem like enough to provide for seniors, Smith explained that it is recommended that residents place one packet in their home, and another in the glove box of their vehicle.

The packet includes a form to add important information, such as medical conditions, medications, and emergency contacts. A bright, yellow sticker is included to affix to the outside of homes and vehicles to alert first responders that the information is available.

Community members interested in partnering with the Hiawassee Police Department can receive additional information from Hiawassee City Hall.

 

Hiawassee Work Session Agenda – April 29th

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Hall

HIAWASSEE WORK SESSION AGENDA
April 29th, 2019

The April Work Session Meeting will be held at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall, Upstairs Training Room

1. Call to order
1.1 Invocation – Anne Mitchell
1.2 Pledge of Allegiance
1.3 Mayor’s Introductions of Guests and Announcements
1.3.1 Samantha Church
1.3.2 If I were Mayor Essay winner – Jaden Taylor
1.4 Motion to Adopt Final Agenda as Distributed

2. Old Business
2.1 Mayor’s Report
2.2 Terry Poteete – Visual Outdoor Advertising
2.3 Water Rates – Resolution on May 7th for changes on June 2019 bill
2.4 Budget – Adoption and 2nd Reading May 7th
2.5 Defined Benefit Plan – 2nd Reading May 7th
2.6 Defined Benefit Plan Adoption – 2nd Reading – May 7th

3. New Business
3.1 Mural Project Plan
3.2 Personnel Policy handling
3.3 Police Department ATV
3.4 Surplus Sale of:
3.4.1 Old Chairs
3.4.2 Vehicles
3.4.3 Dining Table – Conference Room\
3.4.4 Old Computers
3.4.5 Old Furniture
3.5 January and February Financials
3.6 Consent Agenda for May 7th
3.6.1 January & February Financials
3.6.2 April 2nd City Council Meeting minutes
3.6.3 Budget Public Hearing minutes
3.6.4 April 29th Work Session Minutes

4. Police Report

5. Economic Development Report

6. Adjournment

Mayor Ordiales: Not a tax increase, an increase in city revenue

News, Politics
Mayor Liz Ordiales

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held the first of three mandatory public hearings this morning in order to lawfully reject a property tax rollback rate of 2.170 mills. A second hearing is scheduled for 2:00 p.m. at City Hall.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, and Council members Anne Mitchell, Kris Berrong, Amy Barrett, and Nancy Noblet attended the hearing. Councilwoman Patsy Owens is expected to attend the afternoon forum.

While public turn-out was extremely scarce, the two citizens in attendance objected to the rollback denial. Both residents noted the  BRMEMC Franchise Fee which was adopted by the city of Hiawassee earlier this year, as a reason why they oppose what will result in a tax increase for local property owners. Concern for those on fixed incomes was cited, as well as the fact that Hiawassee would be the only entity in Towns County to reject a lower rollback rate.

Mayor Ordiales stood solid ground in her push for maintaining the current rate of 2.258 mills, stating that the cost of city operations warrant rejection of the rollback. Ordiales noted $4.5 million in debt that the city “inheritited” from past administrations, in which $390,000 is due in annual repayment, and added that there has been no rate increase to water or sewer charges in five years. The cost of utilities that the city requires, the funding of the police department, and general expenses were mentioned, in addition to three-percent cost of living raise increases for city staff. Maintaining the current tax rate will draw approximately $7,000 in additional revenue. Ordiales stated that the 52 city property owners which had flown under the tax radar increased the digest by $5.3 million in assessed value.

“It’s not a tax increase,” Mayor Ordiales claimed, “It’s an increase of revenue to the city.”

Council members Amy Barrett, Nancy Noblet, and Kris Berrong voiced that they have received public objection to the rollback rejection, and challenged Ordiales’ position. Barrett and Noblet suggested other ways of raising the city’s revenue, such as requiring a fee for non-residents to partake in newly-constructed Mayors’ Park.

Councilwoman Anne Mitchell favored the mayor’s proposal, stating, “2.258 is a painless way to increase a little bit.”

“This is not a tax increase. We’re leaving it the same, and clearly no one has a problem with it or else there would be 500 people here, jumping up and down,” Ordiales reasoned.

Due to the fact that property value assestments have risen, maintaining the current rate of 2.258 mills will result in higher property taxes for Hiawassee property owners, a point that was raised by those questioning Ordiales’s proposal. When a citizen reminded that the rejection of the rollback rate must be advertised, per law, as a property tax increase due to the fact that it amounts to such, Ordiales replied, “It’s a terrible law. It was written in 1980.”

If the millage rollback is indeed rejected by Hiawassee City Council, it will mark the first year in approximately two decades that it has been denied.

The final public hearing is scheduled for Tuesday, Sept. 11, at 6 p.m. The millage rate will be set at 6:30 p.m.

FYN will report on today’s second hearing once it has taken place.

A previous article on the Hiawassee millage rate is available.

 

 

Historical Society presents 1929 tax digest to city of Hiawassee

Community, News
Hiawassee tax

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Historical Society presented the city of Hiawassee with an artifact Monday, March 26, at the council’s monthly work session: the original 1929 tax digest for the city.

“This is very appropriate since you were just talking about your budget,” Towns County Historian Sandra Green told Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales. “This is the 1929 tax digest for the city of Hiawassee. This is the original and we’re presenting it to the city. You’ll love some of these numbers. The Bank of Hiawassee, their city tax was $21.70, but they only paid $20.30, and we aren’t sure why.”

The crowd erupted in laughter.

Penciled beside the typewritten taxes due from the Bank of Hiawassee, the amount paid is scribbled.

Hiawassee tax digest from 1929

The aged list contains the names of citizens and businesses that operated in Hiawassee nearly nine decades ago.

The tax calculations were based on 40 cents per $100 worth of property.

The total amount of taxed property amounted to $46,977, with $187.60 due to Hiawassee.

The highest amount in taxes owed by a citizen was $16.40.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales expressed appreciation to the Towns County Historical Society for the framed document.

The Towns County Historical Society reminded that restoration of the Old Rock Jail will soon be completed with the museum scheduled to open May 19.

 

Hiawassee to expedite future ordinance adoptions, limiting time for citizen involvement

News, Politics
City of Hiawassee

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales proposed the dismissal of requiring the first and second readings of city ordinances to be spaced a month apart, listing the item as new business on the city council’s Jan. 28 work session agenda.

Mayor Ordiales explained that the change would “speed things up” by allowing both the first and second readings to take place at a single meeting – thus enabling an ordinance to become finalized during the solitary session – should the five council members vote unanimously.

While the process of ordinance adoption would indeed turn expedited, the change would drastically reduce the amount of time for citizen input to a mere week rather than the full month currently prescribed by the city charter.

Given the fact that citizens are prohibited from imparting comments, concerns, or complaints during regular council sessions, the new structure would prevent citizens from publicly speaking if they were absent from the work session when an ordinance was introduced and discussed.

Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to vote on the consolidation of ordinance readings on Tuesday, Feb. 5, at 6 p.m.

 

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City of Hiawassee updates Flicks on the Square, adopts water leak protection plan

News, Politics
Liz Ordiales

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council met for their regular session May 1, 2018.

New hours of operation were set  for Hiawassee City Hall, with doors open weekdays from 8:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales updated the public on Flicks on the Square, an outdoor, weekly movie night that is scheduled to begin after dark Friday, May 25.

(Correction: Showings have since been changed to twice per month rather than weekly.)

Referring to the associated cost of the project mentioned at last week’s work session, Ordiales explained her original quote was underestimated. “I had originally put down there $3,000. It’s really going to be $3,416 because the original quote of $2,899, the speakers were too small for that area. So when we upped the speakers a little bit, it was $3,416,” Ordiales explained.

Mayor Ordiales said that the “good news” is that she has learned Towns County Library owns licensing rights to many movies until March 2019, and plans to allow the city of Hiawassee to borrow their agreement at no charge.

“I’d like to see if we can have a classic movie night maybe once a month, with like Casablanca and that kind of stuff,” Ordiales said.

Councilwoman Amy Barrett suggested inviting non-profit organizations to sell popcorn. There will be no admission charge to attend movie nights on the square.

Councilwoman Amy Barrett at January’s work session

The motion to adopt Flicks on the Square was unanimously approved by the council.

A motion to streamline future consent agendas, with the financials and minutes consolidated into a single, swift vote, was motioned by Councilwoman Nancy Noblet, and seconded by Councilwoman  Anne Mitchell. The idea was raised by Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick at the conclusion of April’s work session.

The ServLine water leak protection policy was adopted, motioned by Councilman Kris Berrong, and seconded by Councilwoman Nancy Noblet.

A motion to sign a formal contract with the current municipal court probation services was unanimously favored, and the first reading of the Hiawassee tree ordinance was approved.

“It basically says that we’ll have trees in Hiawassee, and that we’ll take care of them,” Ordiales noted at the previous work session.

An eligibility application with Georgia Surplus was unanimously approved.

“This is a contract that (Hiawassee Police Chief) Paul (Smith) found for us that will allow us to purchase items from the police department, the Army, the Navy, any type of government entity,” Ordiales said. “You can buy equipment for pennies on the dollar. When I was the president of the Fire Corps, we bought a Hummer for the Fire Corps, and they put a pump on the back of the Hummer that went into the woods, and all kinds of things like that, for 50 bucks. All we had to do was change the color. So, I brought this over here so that we can get this option. Maybe we can buy some tractors, or maybe we can buy some equipment for the water department.”

The second reading of the elected-official pay scale was approved, as well as the first reading of the benefit retirement plan. Ordiales says the new plan will freeze the policy that has been in place, in favor of 3 percent contribution from the city, zero percent from the employee. The previous plan garnered 11 percent from the city, and zero percent from the employee.

All council members were in attendance, with the exception of Patsy Owens.

 

Featured Photo: Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales

 

 

City of Hiawassee considers water leak protection plan

News, Politics
Hiawssee water

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The city of Hiawassee is considering a water leak protection contract with the insurance provider, ServLine, a partnership program with the Georgia Rural Water Association. The insurance provider would reimburse the city for a consumer’s single water leak per billing cycle each year, a write-off that Hiawassee has absorbed in the past. ServLine Representative Jenna Hazelet proposed a policy to council and citizens at the March work session.

Hiawassee City Hall

Jenna Hazelet of ServLine

“The reality is that every single person who is serviced water is at risk for a water leak,” Hazelet began. “I think you all have seen a pretty harsh winter here this season. A lot of communities have, especially when you start to reach the mountain areas. You start seeing a lot of frozen pipes when the winter gets harsh, and that can cause a lot of problems with pipes, with the infrastructure, both on the utility’s side, as well as the customer’s side. We have seen leaks that can reach up into the thousands of dollars.”

Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales added that water leaks are a common occurrence, quoting a total of over a million gallons lost, while using a resident’s recent water consumption as an example. What was typically an average of 3,000 gallons of water usage per month jumped to a staggering excess of 49,000 gallons in a single billing cycle due to leakage.

The residential cost for water leak protection is $1.80 per month. If selected, pipe protection is an additional $4.80 per month.

The policy would cover mishaps that occur from the water meter to the foundation of the structure. Coverage does not include interior piping nor subsequent water damage that may occur.

In order to file a claim, customers would call ServLine who would compensate the city, resulting in an adjustment of the consumer’s bill.

If accepted, the city may include the protection plan as a line item on water bills, allowing residents to cancel coverage if they so choose. The city of Hiawassee has an alternative option to write the policy into the base rate, leading to mandatory enrollment in the program.

“It’s not for everyone, and if you decide at the end of the day that you want to find a different solution for customer water leaks and the bills that result from it, that’s totally okay,” Hazelet told the council.

Mayor Ordiales also noted that water rates have not increased since 2013, although an ordinance has been in place since 2015, to raise fees at an annual rate of 3 percent. Ordiales displayed a website  to citizens, comparing Hiawassee’s low water financial recovery to other cities, showing Hiawassee as “almost in the red.”

Hiawassee City Council meets for work sessions on the last Monday of each month, with regular sessions occurring on the first Tuesday of the month.

Meetings are held at 6 p.m. at Hiawassee City Hall.

 

Ordiales sworn as Hiawassee mayor, Barrett sworn to council

News, Politics
Hiawassee mayor Liz Ordiales

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – In spite of the bone-chilling weather, the atmosphere at the Jan. 2, 2018, Hiawassee City Council meeting was best described as celebratory as citizens gathered to witness the swearing in of newly elected Mayor Liz Ordiales and newcomer Councilwoman Amy Barrett at City Hall. An additional row of seating was added to compensate for the overflow of attendees, while still others stood, surrounding the room’s perimeter. Ordiales greeted her supporters with hugs as they arrived, one joyously expressing she had been “waiting for this day.”

Amy Barrett Hiawassee Council

Councilwoman Amy Barrett is sworn in by City Clerk Cenlya Galloway

Mayor Ordiales

Newly sworn Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales

Patsy Owens, the victor of Post 5, did not attend the swearing in ceremony. Ordiales told FetchYourNews that Owens had traveled out of town and is expected to pledge at a later date.

Nancy Noblet was sworn into office during November’s meeting, filling the two-year seat vacated by Liz Ordiales.

Mayor Ordiales opened the January session with news that a $274,000 U.S. Department of Agriculture loan, dated 1984, had been discovered and paid off in its entirety by the city of Hiawassee, saving residents an estimated $50,000, and eliminating seven years of future payments. At the expense of taxpayers, $602,253 was paid toward the 8.375 percent interest rate loan over a 33-year period. A mere application of $135,000 had lowered the principle. Additional loans continue to be scrutinized. The city of Hiawassee discovered 37 open bank accounts, 20 of which have been closed at this time.

Upon motion, Mayor Ordiales was added to all bank accounts for signature, unanimously approved by council.

Also of note was disclosure that the Hotel-Motel agreement will allow Hiawassee to retain 60 percent of revenue derived from a soon-to-be-enacted ordinance. The Downtown Development Authority (DDA) will receive the remaining 40 percent. Ordiales explained City Attorney Thomas Mitchell will draft a decree, and it is expected to reach the table in the next month or shortly thereafter.

The City Employee Health Benefits were renewed, obtained 50 percent cheaper at $50 a month, per employee.

Mayor Ordiales concluded the meeting by assuring citizens of her intentions to “make good things happen” while vowing to provide “transparency at it’s finest.”

Hiawassee City Council will meet on Monday, Jan. 29, at 6:00 p.m. at City Hall for their monthly work session.

 

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Ethics Committee Assignments listed on Hiawassee Council agenda

News, Politics
Hiawassee City Hall

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Five months following Hiawassee’s official designation as a “City of Ethics” by the Georgia Municipal Association (GMA), Hiawassee Council plans to begin the process of properly assigning committee members to serve as the city’s moral monitors.

Three Hiawassee residents will be selected to volunteer as ethics board members – The first appointed by Mayor Liz Ordiales, a second chosen by Hiawassee City Council, and the third in agreed conjunction of both mayor and council.

The ethics ordinance itself states that elected and appointed city officials must abide by high ethical standards of conduct, with a requirement of disclosure of private financial or other conflicting interest matters. The mandate serves as a basis for disciplinary action for violations.

Hiawassee City Council

Hiawassee City Council agenda – click to enlarge

Listed among expectations are selfless servitude toward others, responsible use of public resources, fair treatment of all persons, proper application of power for the well-being of constituents, and maintenance of an environment which encourages honesty, openness, and integrity.

According to the decree, complaints of violations must be signed under oath, and filed with Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick at City Hall. Copies of the complaint will then be submitted to Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, Hiawassee City Council, and the Board of Ethics within seven days. In addition, a copy will be delivered to the alleged offender. The Board of Ethics is authorized to investigate the complaint, gather evidence, and hold hearings on the matter. The Board of Ethics will determine whether the complaint is justified or unsubstantiated. Should the process proceed, Hiawassee City Council, along with the ethics board, will conduct a hearing within 60 days of the validated complaint.

Public reprimand or a request for resignation may be issued. An appeal may be filed for judicial review with Towns County Superior Court within 30 days after the ruling by the Board of Ethics.

The decision to list the item on the agenda followed community concerns that the previous appointment of ethics committee members were invalid due to the council not having a choice as to whom served.

Hiawassee City Council convenes for their monthly work session on Monday, Nov. 26, at 6 p.m. at City Hall.

Meetings are open to the public.

Mayor’s Proposed Budget heads to Hiawassee City Council

News, Politics

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Council is due to vote on the City’s 2018-2019 budget Tuesday, Oct. 2, following a public hearing held Monday, Sept. 24.

Preceding a line-by-line discussion of the proposed budget, Hiawassee City Council adopted the rollback rate of 2.170 mills in a 3-1 vote. Council members Amy Barrett, Kris Berrong, and Nancy Noblet favored the rollback, with Councilwoman Anne Mitchell solely opposing the reduced tax.

Patsy Owens

Councilwoman Patsy Owens

Councilwoman Patsy Owens was absent from the meeting, reported by Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales to be traveling.

Owens, however, along with Mitchell, rejected the property tax rollback earlier this month, favoring what would have amounted to a tax increase for city property owners.

Concerning the budget, generated revenue applied toward the General Fund is expected to amount to $798,830, an increase of slightly over $33,300 from the previous fiscal year. The rise is due in part to the collection of an anticipated $70,000 in franchise fees imposed on Blue Ridge Mountain Electric Membership Corporation, which in turn has been passed along to customers.

General Expenses are expected to total $544,780, leaving the General Fund with a surplus in excess of $254,000.
Income derived from the Hotel-Motel Tax is listed at $85,000, with outgoing expenses to Towns County Chamber of Commerce, the Tax Commissioner, and local tourism payments, setting that particular budget flush.

SPLOST income is null as it it is non-existent.

The Sewer and Water Treatment Funds are expected to break even at $721,650 for Sewer, and $860,345 for Water Treatment.

Income toward the Water Fund is listed at $1,679,000, with expenses totaling $1,154,470. “This fund has a little bit more money so it’s not so bad,” Mayor Ordiales stated.

Funding for Hiawassee Police Department, however, is scant, with slightly over $177,000 anticipated in income, compared to $431,000 in necessary expenses. A citizen in attendance questioned Mayor Ordiales’ figures in relation to the surplus of finances applied to the General Fund. “You don’t want to use up that surplus,” Ordiales retorted, “What if something goes wrong?”

A total of $12,000 is listed for General Education and Training of City staff, a stark increase of $10,000 above the 2017-2018 initial proposal. Additional training for City Council remains fixed at $5,000.

Councilwoman Amy Barrett countered that line items within the budget were “freed up” the previous year, such as cuts to employee benefits, along with the addition of revenue derived from the franchise fee.

Amy Barrett Hiawassee

Councilwoman Amy Barrett

Furthermore, Barrett inquired into the $17,000 applied to City Hall communications, a $7,000 increase from the 2017-2018 initial budget proposal, separate from the mere $3,000 allotted for Hiawassee Police Department’s communication needs.

“We’re not here to argue,” Ordiales interjected, “It is what it is.”

Barrett noted the $9,000 listed to fund election costs, reminding that other than the Brunch Resolution set to appear on November’s ballot, an actual election is not scheduled to take place in 2018. Ordiales replied that it is wise to have a cushion in the event that a special election is necessary, should a council member decide to “quit.”

Hiawassee Council is scheduled to convene at City Hall at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, Oct. 2, to accept or reject the mayor’s proposed budget.

Meetings are open to the public.

 

 

Hiawassee approves water line mapping project, property risk insurance, brunch resolution

News, Politics

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council convened for their regular monthly session on Tuesday, July 10, unanimously approving motions to venture forth on a water line mapping project, acceptance of a quote for property risk insurance, and in favor of an alcohol brunch resolution.

Property risk insurance quotes were presented by Timothy Barrett, owner of local Barrett and Associates Insurance, during the June 26 work session. Barrett, a partner with Gainesville’s Norton Agency, recommended a $36,133 quote with a two-year guarantee from Georgia InterLocal Risk Management Agency (GIRMA). In comparison, Selective Insurance, the agency providing present coverage for the City of Hiawassee, offered a renewal rate in the amount of $42,796.

Council members Kris Berrong and Anne Mitchell

Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett, the wife of Timothy Barrett, avoided conflict of interest by exiting the session during the presentation and yesterday’s vote. Councilwoman Patsy Owens motioned, with Nancy Noblet seconding. Councilmembers Anne Mitchell and Kris Berrong voted in unified agreement.

Of note, Barrett and Associates were cited as selected several years prior to the election of Councilwoman Amy Barrett.

The water line mapping project was approved in the amount of $5,200. “It should be no more than $5,200,” Ordiales explained, “It was 44 (hundred dollars), but I forgot about the software that needs to be loaded into the computer so it will be no more than $5,200.”

Councilman Kris Berrong favored the motion, with Councilwoman Patsy Owens seconding. The three remaining council members unanimously supported the project.

A motion to approve the brunch resoluton which will permit residents to vote on November’s ballot as to whether to allow local establishments to serve alcohol on Sundays beginning at 11:30 a.m., rather than the current time of 12:30 p.m., was favored by the full Council. Councilwoman Anne Mitchell raised the motion, with Kris Berrong offering secondary approval.

Mayor Ordiales announced at the commencement of the session that she was proudly awarded “Citizen of the Year” by the Towns County-Lake Chatuge Rotary Club.

Old Business consisted of plans for the Moonshine Cruiz-In Festival “drive-in” movie presentation of the 1978 movie “Grease,” scheduled for Wednesday,  July 11, on Hiawassee Towns Square. The event will begin at 7:00 p.m. with a disc jockey providing music as the classic cars roll into town. The movie itself is scheduled for dusk.

The second annual Moonshine Cruiz-In Block Party luncheon will be held on Thursday, June 12, on the town square. Five food vendors are expected to participate, with local Cub Scouts selling beverages.

The Georgia Mountain Fair Parade float was briefly discussed, with Councilwoman Nancy Noblet offering to ride in the Saturday, July 21 procession as “Woodsy the Owl.”

Mayor Ordiales reminded that floor covering replacement is currently underway throughout the lower-level of Hiawassee City Hall, and proceeding on schedule.

Hiawassee strives to add liquor vote to November ballot

News, Politics
Hiawassee liquor

HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council is in the process of introducing legislation related to alcohol sales, with an item appearing on the agenda of the monthly work session, held Tuesday, June 26. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales explained that local restaurants holding alcohol permits, such as Monte Alban and Sundance Grill, would like to offer the sale of alcoholic beverages to Sunday brunch clientele. In addition to allowing local restaurants to begin serving alcohol at 11:00 am., rather than the currently prescribed 12:30 pm, the city strives to gain enough signatures to include a liquor package store vote on November’s General ballot.

Attorney Thomas Mitchell

Hiawassee City Attorney Thomas Mitchell

In order for the referendum to appear, 35 percent of Hiawassee’s 714 voters who were registered in the November, 2017, election must pen their names to a nomination petition prior to August 8, the deadline for a Special Called Election. Hiawassee previously attempted to collect the necessary signatures, falling short, with an estimated 170 signatures gathered. Hiawassee City Attorney Thomas Mitchell advised including an additional ten percent “cushion” in the event a portion of the the signatures derive from ineligible individuals.

Concerns of tax revenue lost due to residents and tourists traveling to Clay County, North Carolina, to purchase liquor were addressed at a Towns County Civic Association meeting on Friday, June 22, and the notion drew no vocal opposition from residents at Tuesday’s work session at City Hall.

FetchYourNews met with Towns County Board of Elections Director Tonya Nichols on the morning of Wednesday, June 27, to learn the details of the endeavor. Local governments have broad powers, conferred by state law, to regulate the manufacturing, distributing, and selling of alcoholic beverages. Cities have the authority to determine whether the sale of distilled spirits may take place within the city limits, independent of whether the county in which the city is located has authorized sales. Liquor by the drink, which allows establishments to serve spirits, was adopted in Hiawassee in 2017, after receiving approval from the majority of voters the previous year.

The manner in which the petition will be circulated for signatures is undetermined at the time of publication.

In county news, Towns Sole Commissioner Cliff Bradshaw plans to include a liquor by the drink referendum to the November ballot, keeping with his campaign promise. “We will put it on the ballot and let the voters decide,” Bradshaw said.

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