City council will continue to learn more about land use options

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HIAWASSEE, Ga – Hiawassee City Council agreed to move forward with learning more about land use and potentially zoning options for the city.

After attending a planning and land use class to learn more about the options on the table for cities, the council wanted more information before making any lasting decisions.

“It was a very good class. It was a lot of information poured out very quickly and it’s hard to digest all the information very quickly,” said Councilmember Jay Chastain.

Councilmember Anne Mitchell added she thought it provided the opportunity to “correct some of the growth” and was excited about the opportunity.

Chastain and Mitchell also agreed it would take a lot of discussion before putting anything into place.

Chastain thought the best plan would be if the city ever decided to move forward with more planning, zoning, or land use procedure, then it should be placed on the ballot as a referendum for the people to decide.

The city attorney explained that several cities have placed referendums on the ballot, not related to statutes like alcohol. So, he wasn’t going to advise that a referendum wasn’t a possibility.

“We’ve got to do lots of prepping beforehand,” Chastain stated. “We’ve got to draft what we’re going to attempt to do.”

Currently, the council is just discussing whether they want to move forward with the discussion or drop it entirely.

“I agree with Jay. It’s going to take a lot more community involvement, educating, and research before we decide to go down this direction,” Councilmember Amy Barrett commented.

Mitchell asked for information about how long the process would take and offered to attend as many informational sessions as she can to gain a better handle on the issue.

Young Harris has a zoning policy in effect.

The biggest area in Hiawassee that could benefit from a planning or zoning policy would be the business district. The measure could potentially prevent storage units from being developed along Hwy. 76. However, all of Hiawassee would be zoned either as a business district, residential district, or commercial/industrial. It must be a continuous area for the entire city limits. In some cases, a mixed-use area can be acceptable.

Towns County unincorporated isn’t currently considering a zoning policy. Most residents are against any zoning or planning ordinances.

“I don’t want people telling me what I can do or what I can’t do on my property is what people’s biggest concerns are,” Councilmember Nancy Noblet explained.

They all agreed that they wanted to learn more before implementing or dropping the planning and zoning discussion.

Salaries are an issue for public safety

Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith explained it’s becoming difficult to find individuals to fill officer positions. The main reason for this difficulty is pay.

“There’s a couple of officers I’ve spoken to, trying to get them to leave their current department to come work here, but we’ve had trouble so far,” Smith explained. “The ones I’ve spoken to we can’t match their pay.”

Neighboring departments are paying $4 more an hour. The starting pay for an officer with no experience is $14.26. They are looking for an overnight officer, so the pay is slightly more. Towns County deputies are paid around $3 more an hour.

Hiawassee Police Chief Paul Smith

Hiawassee Police Department does include a benefits package too.

Smith added that the police training conference he recently attended said this is an issue across the state.

Chastain said it might be time to look at the pay scale for public safety officials.

“I hate that these guys and girls have to put their life on the life for me. It breaks my heart that we’re all about this other stuff, but when it comes to our police department, I feel like that somewhere in the budget. It may not be water or sewer but somewhere in that budget surely to God, we can find money that can go to y’all,” Noblet stated.

One course of action to pay more police officers more would be raising taxes, but the council wants to review the budget first.


Referendum for package stores will appear on November ballot

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HIAWASSEE, Ga – Hiawassee City Council approved an alcohol referendum on the package sale of spirits to appear on the November ballot for city residents.

The measure will read “shall the issuance of licenses for package sale of spirits be approved? Yes or no?”

Previously, the state of Georgia required signatures to be presented before an alcohol referendum could appear on the ballot. However, the General Assembly removed that requirement, and the city council has opted to let citizens vote on the issue.

Hiawassee already has an extensive alcohol ordinance in place which includes provisions for stores, such as it must be a 2,000 square foot building, 300 feet away from a church, and have $300,000 worth of inventory on hand.

If passed in November, the liquor stores could only go inside city limits since this is a city referendum. It doesn’t apply to Towns County unincorporated.

The council unanimously approved placing the referendum on the ballot at their June 1 meeting.

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