HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The City of Hiawassee asked for the public’s “positive, serious” thoughts on the types of business they would like to see set up shop on Main Street, west of Hiawassee Town Square. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales announced the tentative purchase of Hiawassee’s two oldest buildings in late November, with Hiawassee City Council approving the purchase the following week.
The buildings’ appraisal was set at $135,000, Mayor Ordiales said on Nov. 25, although $36,000 was “donated to the city” by Dan Paris, reducing the city’s cost to $99,000. Ordiales expressed gratitude toward Paris, a local businessman who is assisting in the restoration of downtown Hiawassee.
Ideas ranged from a book shop to a pool hall and everything in between.
After many months of detailed research, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government revealed a five-year strategic plan for Hiawassee’s potential future on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, during a Town Hall meeting. The procedure of envisioned development was the result of numerous studies conducted between the institute and local leaders, business owners, and residents.
During the course of the study, community stakeholders listed what they felt was working well in Hiawassee, and what they believed could benefit from improvement. Positive aspects included the strong sense of community with a “small-town feel,” the city’s town square, and the location itself, brimming with natural amenities. Feedback on areas that could prosper from improvement consisted of advanced beautification efforts, occupation of vacant buildings and lots, improved traffic and transportation, and the promotion of business options.
What do you think would be a nice addition to Downtown Hiawassee? Let us know in the comment section below or on our Facebook page.
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HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales recently shared what she enthusiastically deemed “the biggest news ever” with members of the city council and citizens.
“The City has just completed a close to purchase the two buildings between Anderson’s (Financial Service) and Victoria’s Attic. The two oldest buildings in the city. (City of Hiawassee attorney) Mr. Mitchell was here today and we finished all of the closing documents. Of course, that will be up for a vote on Tuesday,” Mayor Ordiales announced as a tentative deal at Hiawassee City Hall, Nov. 25.
The historic, vacant buildings are located on Main Street, east of Hiawassee Town Square, A component of Hiawassee’s five-year strategy includes revitalization of Hiawassee’s downtown district, and Mayor Ordiales promised that the dual structures will transition up to par.
The buildings’ appraisal was set at $135,000, the mayor stated, although $36,000 was “donated to the city” by Dan Paris, reducing the city’s cost to $99,000. Ordiales expressed gratitude toward Paris, a local businessman who is assisting in the restoration of downtown Hiawassee. “So that’s the price we will be approving on Tuesday,” the mayor told the council.
Mayor Ordiales additionally announced that Hiawassee’s strategic plan was selected for national recognition in March of 2020 at the Downtown Development Authority’s national convention in Washington D.C.
After many months of detailed research, the Carl Vinson Institute of Government revealed the five-year strategic plan for Hiawassee’s potential future on Tuesday, Dec. 4, 2018, during a Town Hall meeting. The procedure of envisioned development was the result of numerous studies conducted between the institute and local leaders, business owners, and residents.
During the course of the study, community stakeholders listed what they felt was working well in Hiawassee, and what they believed could benefit from improvement. Positive aspects included the strong sense of community with a “small-town feel,” the city’s town square, and the location itself, brimming with natural amenities. Feedback into areas that could prosper from improvement consisted of advanced beautification efforts, occupation of vacant buildings and lots, improved traffic and transportation, and the promotion of business options.
The City of Hiawassee worked with the Carl Vinson Institute, a unit of the Office of Public Service and Outreach at the University of Georgia, which assists state and local governments in achieving their goals. Hiawassee received a $21,000 Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC) grant in 2017 to assist in the funding of the study. Steering committees were formed for the endeavor, and interviews and focus groups were held to sculpt the formation of the project.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Georgia’s Department of Natural Resources – Environmental Protection Division (EPD) has launched an investigation into the City of Hiawassee’s controversial “Roadrunner” sewer station shutdown. FetchYourNews (FYN) broke the story on the repercussions of Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales’ decision to disconnect numerous Towns County businesses from wastewater disposal earlier this week.
Click to read: Hiawassee Disconnects Multiple Businesses from Sewer System
Georgia EPD Director of Communications Kevin Chambers confirmed this morning, Nov. 15, that the state department has opened an investigation into the matter. A field agent from the environmental division visited the city-owned Roadrunner site Nov. 14, along with the privately-owned lift station maintained by Ken and Dana Merritt, stakeholders connected to several impacted businesses in Towns County’s entertainment district.
Sodbusters, a Hayesville-based septic service hired by the Merritts to dispose of the quickly-accumulating waste, reported Nov. 15 that the sewage vault has required 70 pumpings – which amounts to approximately 91,000 gallons of total waste removal – at a rate of eight truckloads hauled for disposal per day since the ordeal began.
“(Disconnecting the Roadrunner lift station) addresses several issues that have been long-standing,” Mayor Ordiales said in part earlier this week. “The odor from that area has been an issue for over 13 years, the need for weekly maintenance to that lift station, the need to have utilities present, both water and electricity, the maintenance and repairs of two large pumps valued at over $15,000 each, and the maintenance of a large electric panel to operate that lift station.” Mayor Ordiales stated that the initial decision to shut down the facility was reached in December 2018.
Lift stations require a source of electric power, and the Merritts claim that discontinuation of the city sewage site is not only a threat to the environment but caused damage to their privately-owned lift pump. According to the EPA, when the power supply is interrupted, flow conveyance is discontinued and can result in flooding upstream of the lift station. It can also interrupt the normal operation of the downstream wastewater conveyance and facilities.
“The City was unaware of the (EPD) inspection but always welcomes input to make our system work more efficiently and effectively,” Mayor Ordiales told FYN on Nov. 15. “During their inspection, they did find that there was trash around the area that was not picked up in a timely manner. EPD contacted the City this morning, and The City addressed their concerns and reported back this afternoon.” Ordiales added that fines were not imposed as a result of yesterday’s inspection.
EPD stated that a timetable is not affixed to the pump station investigation. Merritt, who spoke with the field agent on Thursday, indicated to FYN that the EPD’s preliminary findings suggested that the private pump appears to be “in compliance” with state regulations.
Continue to follow FYN for updated information on Hiawassee’s sewage situation as developments occur.
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.
“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.”
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee water customers are expected to be given an option on the May 2020 primary ballot regarding the addition of fluoride. A petition opposing the addition of fluoride was recently circulated in the community, garnering enough signatures to place the decision on the ballot for both Hiawassee citizens and Towns County consumers of city water. According to Hiawassee City Hall, 35 citizens signed the circulated petition, enough to advance a referendum.
The City of Hiawassee received notice earlier this year from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) that the mineral has not been an additive in the water supply for decades.
“During the routine inspection, it was discovered that the Hiawassee Water System did not add fluoride as a treatment process,” EPD Environmental Compliance Specialist Alisha Bailey wrote in an email. “According to the current ORC, Mr. Randall Thomas, Hiawassee WTP has not treated the water with fluoride in over 20 years. All potable water sources must be fluoridated, according to the Rules for Safe Drinking Water 391-3-5-.16 Fluoridation. Amended. In certain cases, some water systems had received a waiver from the state or there was a vote within the board of the water system as to not add fluoride to the drinking water.”
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales responded, informing EPD that a vote to reject local fluoridation had taken place 36 years prior. Ordiales included a copy of city council minutes from 1983 as evidence.
FetchYourNews (FYN) reported public opposition to fluoridation after Fluoride Action Network published FYN’s initial report on the city’s intent. According to its mission statement, “Fluoride Action Network seeks to broaden awareness among citizens, scientists, and policymakers on the toxicity of fluoride compounds. FAN provides comprehensive and up-to-date information and remains vigilant in monitoring government agency actions that impact the public’s exposure to fluoride.”
Mayor Ordiales informed FYN last week that she anticipates Hiawassee City Council will move the matter to the 2020 ballot box during the Sept. 3 regular session.
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HIAWASSEE, Ga.- Board members for the recently created Hiawassee Downtown Development Authority (DDA) were named per open records request sent last week to the city of Hiawassee by FetchYourNews (FYN), following activation of the DDA by Hiawassee City Council Tuesday, Aug. 6. A list of the individuals selected to serve on the authority was delivered to FYN by Hiawassee City Clerk Bonnie Kendrick via Joint Economic Developer Denise McKay.
The appointed DDA board of directors are as follows:
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales
According to Georgia Municiple Association (GMA), DDAs and their appointed boards are created to revitalize and redevelop the central business districts of cities in Georgia. DDA training provides local leaders with the skills and knowledge they need to ensure a healthy, vibrant downtown. According to the University of Georgia, DDAs have a range of powers which include: developing and promoting downtowns; making long-range plans or proposals for downtowns; financing (by loan, grant, lease, borrow or otherwise) projects for the public good; executing contracts and agreements; purchasing, leasing or selling property; and issuing revenue bonds and notes.
The DDA consists of a board of seven directors appointed by the municipal governing authority to serve four-year terms. Directors are appointed by the governing body, and must be taxpayers who live in the city and/or owners or operators of businesses located within the downtown development area and who are taxpayers residing in the county in which the municipal corporation is located, except that one director may reside outside the county if he/she owns a business within the downtown development area and is a resident of the State of Georgia. One director may be a member of the governing body of the municipal corporation. No less than four of the directors must be persons who either have or represent a party who has an economic interest in the redevelopment and revitalization of the downtown development area. Directors receive no compensation other than reimbursement for actual expenses incurred in performing their duties (O.C.G.A. § 36-42-7). All members of the board of directors, except for the director who is also a member of the city’s governing body, must complete at least eight hours of DDA training within the first 12 months of appointment to the DDA.
Advantages of creating an authority include:
- the ability of the municipal government to delegate responsibility
- to have a body that will assist in developing and operating a single purpose facility (such as water and sewer, parking facility, etc.)
- carrying out a focused public purpose, such as economic development
- financing a project through revenue bonds
- creates a way to have ongoing oversight of operations after initial development is completed
- their activities may be less influenced by politics
- there is some distance between the city and the authority, which is helpful if controversies arise.
Disadvantages to creating authorities include:
- authorities can become overly independent
- authority boards are often appointed to terms longer than those of the elected officials who appointed them
- they can become financially self-sufficient from the city from operations of the facilities they develop
- they are likely to be less responsive to public opinion and to local governments.
Despite the level of independence of authorities, municipal governing bodies do have oversight powers and controls, GMA explains. For example, the boards of all municipal authorities are comprised of members appointed by the city’s governing authority. For many authorities, a certain number of city officials are either required to serve or may be appointed to serve on the board. The activities of authorities must be consistent with those described in the local Service Delivery Strategy. The enabling legislation for some authorities specifically states that board members serve at the pleasure of the governing authority. Authorities typically have bylaws that govern their activities and describe their organization. Additionally, authorities are subject to open meetings and open records laws set forth by the state of Georgia.
FYN will continue to follow developments related to the newly-formed DDA. A meet-and-greet to provide an introduction between council members and the selected board was suggested by Mayor Ordiales at the Aug. 6 regular session, prompting FYN to request information on the assembly.
“A meet and greet has not been scheduled as this request and the meeting date, location and times have not been determined as of this request,” Economic Developer McKay responded via email. “When the DDA meets for the first time all this will be considered and on the published agenda. Proper notification will be given to the legal organization for publishing the meeting and agendas will be posted as required.”
HIAWASSEE, Ga.- Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales announced Monday, July 29, that Susan Phillips will replace former member Leslie McPeak on the Hiawassee Ethics Board. Phillips was originally chosen by the mayor to serve, prior to a required vote by the city council which appointed Sue Scott to the position. McPeak, who was duly selected by Mayor Ordiales, recently relocated from Hiawassee, vacating the seat. LaJean Turner, approved by both mayor and council, holds the third post on the city board.
The motion to adopt the City of Ethics resolution was unanimously approved on Feb. 6, 2018, during Hiawassee City Council’s monthly session. The second reading was conducted the previous year, prior to the election of half of the current council. The mandate 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 ordinance serves as a basis for disciplinary action for violations.
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.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales received the Certificate of Achievement from the Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute during the Georgia Municipal Association’s (GMA) Annual Convention in Savannah. The Harold F. Holtz Municipal Training Institute, a cooperative effort of GMA and the University of Georgia’s Carl Vinson Institute of Government, provides a nationally recognized series of training opportunities for city officials. To receive a Certificate of Achievement, a city official must complete a minimum of 72 units of credit, including at least 36 hours from a list of required classes. The training program consists of a series of more than 60 courses.
“This is an outstanding achievement,” GMA Executive Director Larry Hanson said. “We commend Mayor Ordiales for this accomplishment and for the dedication she’s shown in using this valuable resource to become a more effective city official.”
Based in Atlanta, GMA is a voluntary, non-profit organization that provides legislative advocacy, research, training, employee benefit and technical consulting services to its 538 member cities. The mission of GMA is to anticipate and influence the forces shaping Georgia’s cities, and to provide leadership, tools and services that assist municipal governments in becoming more innovative, effective, and responsive. Created in 1933, GMA is the only state organization that represents municipal governments in Georgia. GMA is a voluntary, non-profit organization that provides legislative advocacy, educational, employee benefit and technical consulting services to its members.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee City Council held its second reading of a broadband ready ordinance Tuesday, July 9, unanimously adopting the decree. All political subdivisions in Georgia pursuing improved broadband access are eligible for the Broadband Ready Community Certification if the following criteria is met. A unit may be certified as a Broadband Ready Community by completing an online application form, demonstrating compliance with the adoption of a Comprehensive Plan inclusive of the promotion of the deployment broadband services, and demonstrating compliance with the adoption of a Broadband Model Ordinance.
Additionally, the council voted in favor of moving personnel ordinances to resolutions, adopting the measure. Councilwoman Ann Mitchell said that the mandate will make future processes “more flexible.” Mitchell stood in for Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales, who is scheduled to return to city hall Monday, July 15, following a Spain excursion.
Ordinances differ from resolutions. “They are two significantly distinct government actions,” the website USLegal explained. “The term ordinance means something more than a mere verbal motion or resolution. It must be carried out with the formalities, solemnities, and characteristics of an ordinance, as distinguished from a simple motion or resolution. Whereas, a resolution encompasses all actions of the municipal body other than ordinances. A resolution deals with matters of a special or temporary character and an ordinance prescribes some permanent rule of conduct or government to continue in force until the ordinance is repealed. An ordinance is a legislative act and a resolution is an expression of opinion or mind or policy concerning some particular item of business coming within the legislative body’s official cognizance. It is to be noted that an ordinance can be repealed only by another ordinance and not by resolution.”
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – The Towns County Lions Club has been serving the community since their inception in 1940. Lions Club International is known for their yellow vests and their generosity in serving the blind and visually impaired. Locally, they are also known for their involvement in the Georgia Mountain Fair as well as their funnel cake booth. With nearly 80 years of community service in Towns County, their latest service project may be a first.
Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith was contacted by the Towns County Lions Club last month with the offer to help locate a vehicle for the department. “I explained that while we were in need of a newer vehicle, the department’s budget did not allow for the purchase of one this year. However, we began looking at what was available in the area,” said Chief Smith. Several used Dodge Chargers were available at Jacky Jones in Hayesville. The vehicles had been traded in by a North Carolina police agency, and still had most of the necessary equipment installed, including the prisoner partition, siren, and emergency blue lights.
After inspecting and test driving the vehicles with Chief Smith, the Lions Club met and voted to purchase one of the vehicles for the Hiawassee Police Department. Ronnie Whelchel, the Towns County Lions Club second vice president, was instrumental in the acquisition of the patrol car. “The Lions’ motto is, ‘We Serve,’” said Whelchel. “What better way to uphold this motto, than to assist those who serve and protect our community.”
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales and Chief Smith were overjoyed upon hearing of the donation of the vehicle. “We are so fortunate to live in a community that thrives on supporting our area,” said Mayor Ordiales. “The Lions Club has a long-standing tradition of doing just that. We appreciate this service project so much as it enhances our fleet and allows us to provide better service to our community.” “I am incredibly thankful for the generosity shown by the Towns County Lions Club,” said Chief Smith. “The vehicle that I have been driving was the oldest in the fleet and was well past the recommended mileage for a patrol car. I will be proudly driving the new vehicle which displays the Lions Club logo along with ‘Towns County Lions Club Service Project’ behind the rear passenger windows.”
Lions Clubs International is the world’s largest service club organization with more than 1.4 million
members in approximately 46,000 clubs in more than 200 countries and geographical areas around
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee residents should expect to see a rate increase on their June water bills, following full city council approval May 7.
As previously reported, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales proposed before the council in late March for water rates to more than double over a five-year span. Mayor Ordiales reminded that a rate increase has not occurred in the past six years, adding that water and sewer has been running at a deficit of $159,000, excluding over $3 million in city debt.
Rates are set to increase from $19.27 per month to $24.67 next month. Should the plan proceed, rates are scheduled to rise to $30.09 in 2020, climb to $34.61 in 2021, spike to $38.76 in 2022, and level at $42.25 by 2023. In addition, a monthly, 1,200 gallon consumption allowance will go into effect next month. The proposal will not effect businesses, sewer rates, or North Carolina residents, Ordiales said last week.
Mayor Ordiales previously stated that the City of Hiawassee sought counsel from the University of North Carolina, in conjunction with GEFA, in determining the rate hike, opting to spread the increase over a half decade rather than impact residents in an immediate, full-scale fashion. The mayor added at last week’s work session that the plan may be re-evaluated in 2020, and potentially adjusted according to the lowering of the deficit.
UPDATED: A city council member contacted FYN to notify that the original, five-year plan proposed by Mayor Ordiales is not in effect in the current mandate, and will be reviewed on an annual basis.
Feature Image: Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales at the May 7 session
Information on the water rate study is available below:
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Fluoride may soon be added to the local water supply. Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales announced the news during the March city council work session. The City of Hiawassee received notice from the Georgia Environmental Protection Division (EPD) that fluoride has not been an additive in the water supply in over 20 years.
“During the routine inspection, it was discovered that the Hiawassee Water System did not add fluoride as a treatment process,” EPD Environmental Compliance Specialist Alisha Bailey wrote in an email obtained by FYN. “According to the current ORC, Mr. Randall Thomas, Hiawassee WTP has not treated the water with fluoride in over 20 years. All potable water sources must be fluoridated, according to the Rules for Safe Drinking Water 391-3-5-.16 Fluoridation. Amended. In certain cases, some water systems had received a waiver from the state or there was a vote within the board of the water system as to not add fluoride to the drinking water.”
Mayor Ordiales responded to EPD via email, including a copy of city council minutes from 1983, informing that a vote to reject local fluoridation had taken place 36 years prior. The mayor relayed during the council meeting, however, that the addition of fluoride to the water supply is a state mandate.
Upon objection from a citizen in attendance, Mayor Ordiales said the city would prefer not to fluoridate as to avoid the incurred expense.
Water fluoridation began in some parts of the United States in 1945, after scientists noted that people living in areas with higher water fluoride levels had fewer cavities. Starting in 1962, the United States Public Health Service (PHS) recommended that public water supplies contain fluoride to help prevent tooth decay.
Fluoride is now used in the public drinking water supplied to about 3 out of 4 Americans. The decision to add fluoride to drinking water is made at the state or local level. The types of fluoride added to different water systems include fluorosilicic acid, sodium fluorosilicate, and sodium fluoride.
Fluoride is not required in all drinking water sources in the United States, but the levels of fluoride in water are regulated by several government agencies.
Starting in 1962, the United States Public Health Service (PHS) recommended that public water supplies contain between 0.7 and 1.2 milligrams of fluoride per liter (mg/L) of drinking water to help prevent tooth decay. This recommendation was updated in 2015 to a fluoride level of 0.7 mg/L, The change was made in part to account for the fact that people now get more fluoride from other sources (such as toothpaste) than in the past. Natural drinking water sources in the US have an average fluoride level of about 0.2 mg/L, although in some places it can be much higher.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – Hiawassee Town Square will feature another season of free concerts Saturday evenings at 7 pm, beginning April 25. This year’s line-up will include a mix of genres, ranging from southern rock, oldies, steel band, saxophone, big band, and gospel.
Set to kick-off the season is Holman Autry Band. The Georgia natives take a fresh approach to southern rock, often described as “Black Label Country.”
“As all our albums from the first, all the way to the fourth, you will hear our diversity in genre,” Holman Autry Band explained. “Everything from rock to country rock. People have said ‘Holman Autry Band is a little bit of Hank, a little bit Metallica, and a healthy dose of southern rock and country;’ that is all a part of the Holman Autry Band sound. If you like Lynyrd Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers Band, and Govt Mule, you are sure to love the Holman Autry Band.”
The City of Hiawassee began hosting movie nights for families in 2018. This year will be no exception. Movies will be shown every other Friday at 8:30 pm throughout the season, beginning May 24. In the event of rain, the show will go on at the Towns County Civic Center. There is no charge to attend. Popcorn and drinks will be available for purchase.
Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales encouraged residents to choose their top six flicks from 10 choices at a recent City Hall meeting. Although not yet determined, the options included Dragon, Dragon 2, I Can Only Imagine, The Secret Life of Pets, Ralph Breaks the Internet, Trolls, The Blind Side, Spiderman into the Spider Verse, The Incredibles, and The Incredibles 2.
Towns County Library leases licensing rights for the movies, loaning them to the City of Hiawassee. Once selected, the schedule will be posted behind the Appalachian Trail kiosk on Hiawassee Town Square.
HIAWASSEE, Ga. – There is no denying that times are always changing, and the sleepy, little town of Hiawassee, Georgia, population 903, is on a fast track to follow suit. While transformation is inevitable and often welcomed with open arms, members from the community have begun voicing their views on what it could mean for the lower-income population, and ultimately, the indigenous culture that has inhabited Towns County for centuries.
The course of action that the city of Hiawassee plans to enact implores the question of whether gentrification is at play. While most people understand the process and effects of gentrification, many remain unaware that an actual term exists. Merriam-Webster defines gentrification as “the process of renewal and rebuilding, accompanying the influx of middle class or affluent people, into deteriorating areas that often results in the displacement of earlier, poorer residents.” In order for these areas to be revitalized, the areas must be essentially cleared out. This is achieved through the raising of taxes and service rates, often beyond the point of affordability.
During last year’s property tax increase hearings, Hiawassee Councilwoman Amy Barrett raised concern that senior residents on fixed-incomes are relocating due to heightened electricity costs, citing the city-imposed BRMEMC franchise “fee” as the reason given by the displaced. While the full council favored the franchise, the mayor’s proposal to reject the property tax rollback was ultimately defeated in a 3-2 vote.. On Jan. 28, Hiawassee Mayor Liz Ordiales divulged that a water rate increase is in the works, explaining that it has been six years since a spike last occurred.
On a cultural front, community concerns began to surface during a June town hall meeting, held in conjunction with the University of Georgia (UGA) Carl Vinson Institute of Government, which focused on a strategic, comprehensive project to sculpt the future of Hiawassee. While program participants overwhelmingly favored noble plans such as boosting tourism, advancing city beautification, and creating structured, economic growth, other suggestions raised eyebrows, particularly from the conservative population.
Leslie McPeak – a vocal, local business owner who was later exalted to the city’s Board of Ethics by Mayor Ordiales – suggested deviation from long-held traditions, including a reduction in the amount of gospel and country concerts hosted in the area, determination that shops open their doors on Sundays to boost economic reward, and an assertion that the city should steer clear from the “Bible-Belt stigma” that has prevailed in Towns County since its foundation.
Months later, when the strategic plan was completed and introduced at Hiawassee City Hall, McPeak publicly inquired whether eminent domain, a highly-controversial practice in which the government expropriates private property for public use, was an option to abolish what McPeak considered an unattractive local business. A representative from the Carl Vinson Institute responded that grants, rather, may be available to encourage compliance with the city’s aesthetic vision. Additionally, McPeak drew media attention during a previous council session by harshly critizing a Republican election rally held last July on Hiawassee Town Square.
In recent events, Mayor Ordiales, who has been repeatedly praised as “progressive-minded” by supporters – in collaboration with newly-hired Economic Developer Denise McKay – stated during the council’s January work session that the city holds ambition for private land to be purchased by developers to construct “affordable” apartment housing in order to retain the local youth once they enter the workforce. The topic was broached when a citizen in attendance skeptically called into question the city’s goals for current residents and business owners. Ordiales replied that workers will be needed to fill certain positions, listing boat mechanics and hospitality workers as examples, due to a projected influx of a population which will require such services. Unprompted, Ordiales concluded that $800 a month in rent is considered reasonable, retracting the amount to $700 after the council and citizens failed to express a reaction to the mayor’s initial figure.
Upon query from FYN, Economic Developer McKay listed the inceptive phase of the project that Hiawassee intends to implement, and according to McKay that includes improving the appearance of the outdated post office and sprucing the entrance to Ingles while seeking a grant for artists to begin painting murals throughout the city.
It should be noted that the revitalization and preservation of historic structures is listed in the city’s five-year plan, with Mayor Ordiales often referencing the Old Rock Jail Museum as a point of reference, a site entrusted to the Towns County Historical Society by former Commissioner Bill Kendall. Ordiales stated to Mountain Movers and Shakers Jan. 25 that two developers have shown interest in the vacant row of buildings on Main Street, west of the town square, although the structure located next to where Delco once stood will be demolished when purchased. Ordiales recited significant achievements in lowering the city’s inherited debt, acquiring numerous grants, and engineering a plan to improve the infrastructure – all critical components in expanding Hiawassee’s development – during the Movers and Shakers’ forum.
While a range of participants took part in the creation of the strategic plan, the contributors represent a small fraction of the population. The Carl Vinson Institute of Government described the project as a stepping stone, however, rather than an endeavor set in stone.
In sum, while economic growth and positive innovation is widely supported, it is the opinion of the author that the effect of particular politics and policies, left unchecked, has the potential to deteriorate the backbone of conservative communities, both fiscally and culturally. This is especially true if the public whom it affects remains disengaged from local happenings, and apathetic to eventual outcomes.
Hiawassee City Council is scheduled to convene on Tuesday, Feb. 5, for their regular meeting to adopt the city’s strategic plan, as well as hold a first reading to expedite future ordinances by consolidating readings into a single session.
Public comment is prohibited during regular meetings.
The next work session, which will allow citizen input, is scheduled for Monday, Feb. 25, at 6 p.m.
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