Helen City Commission Holds First Reading of Proposed 2017-’18 Budget


HELEN, Ga. – The Helen City Commission held  the first public hearing for the city’s proposed $3.5 million fiscal year 2017-’18 budget Tuesday. The second and final hearing is scheduled for July 18 at 3 p.m.

The new spending plan calls for $3,510,505 in expenditures. General government operations will command the largest part of the budget at $1,010,350, followed by the police department ($773,700), fire department ($712,026) and public works ($524,179).

The water and wastewater fund is expected to generate the most revenue at $1,058,500, followed by the hotel/motel tax ($975,000), sales tax ($760,000), Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax ($622,400) and property tax ($400,000).

Commissioners voted unanimously to renew the contract with the White County Convention and Visitors Bureau that calls for the CV&B to pay $3,000 monthly rental for the building it occupies plus utilities and the city to distribute a percentage of the hotel/motel tax revenue to the CV&B.

After a lengthy discussion with David Jones, owner of Hansel & Gretel Candy Kitchen and Chocolate Factory, commissioners unanimously denied a request to add a third sign to the business, saying it would violate the city’s sign ordinance.

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Helen Set For First Budget Public Hearing


HELEN, Ga. – Helen City Commissioners will hold a discussion followed immediately by the first public hearing  on the proposed FY 2017-18 budget when they meet Tuesday (June 20) at 3 p.m. at City Hall.

City Manager Jerry Elkins

There will also be a discussion and consideration of renewal of the contract with the Helen/White County Convention and Visitors Bureau as well as a proclamation inducting Warren and Lois Brown to the Helen Heritage Hall of Fame.

City Manager Jerry Elkins will present the monthly financial report.

Commissioners are expected to vote on a variance request for a third sign for the Hansel and Gretl Candy Factory at 8070 South Main Street.

A vote on amendment of the city ordinance as it relates to horse drawn carriages in the city is also expected.


Federal Regulations Will Cost Helen Taxpayers Time and Money


Federal regulations will make replacing the old pedestrian bridge in Helen more expensive.

HELEN, Ga. – As they often do, obtrusive and unnecessary federal regulations have delayed another local project and, in all likelihood, made it more expensive for taxpayers.

Last week, the Helen City Commission approved a contract to build a pedestrian bridge across the Chattahoochee River to Sautee-based Square Deal Enterprises, a company the city has frequently done business with and found to be more than satisfactory. Square Deal built an identical bridge for the city directly across Hwy. 75 and presented a bid that was the lowest of the four received.

But, because the agreement was to have been funded with federal Transportation Enhancement dollars through the Georgia Department of Transportation, it required that a percentage of the work be performed by a minority or woman-owned business. Square Deal did not meet that requirement. Only one bid did and that would cost the taxpayers an additional $270,000.

That left the city with only two options. Either pay the extra $270,000 or rebid the project. On Friday, the commission opted to re-open the bidding process.



Family Connection Appeals to Helen for Funding


(Left to right) Judi Lawson, Annette Boswell and Lindsey Oliver of Family Connection.

HELEN, Ga. — White County Family Connection Executive Director Judi Lawson, Annette Boswell and Lindsey Oliver attended the Helen City Commission meeting Tuesday seeking funds to help the them fulfill their mission.

Family Connection is a local decision-making body that brings community partners together to develop and implement, plans to address the serious challenges facing White County’s children and families. Many are homeless or live in substandard housing.

The organization provides food, clothing, assistance with shelter, school supplies, glasses and help with healthcare needs.
Ms. Boswell pointed out that there are about 90 homeless families in the county and 20-25 reside in Helen either in a camper or doubled up with family members. Some live in storage sheds.

Family Connection depends on funds from the community to allow it to continue to provide those services.

The organization currently receives $10,000 a year from White County and $5,100 from the City of Cleveland to help families. The group asked commissioners to consider including Family Connection when it begins its budgeting process next month.
Commissioners said they would get a preliminary look at the budget in June and would consider including Family Connection at that time.


Commission Tables Funding Request by Helen Arts & Heritage Center


HELEN, Ga. – The Helen City Commission Tuesday tabled for further consideration a request for funding from the Helen Arts and Heritage Center.

At the first meeting in April, the Center’s Craft Care Specialist Nancy Ackerman said the Center, which is manned almost exclusively by volunteers, needs funding to continue its work. She asked commissioners to consider funding of $20,000 for the remainder of this year and $30,000 for 2018. At that earlier meeting, disabled veteran William Reed gave powerful and tearful testimony about what the Center’s program for veterans had meant to him personally.

“The program helped me a lot,” Reed said. “It’s gotten me out of the house and involved in art. I feel it’s very important just to help keep me going, and to help other veterans. It helps us all get together.”

Commissioners approved holding the 2017 Southeast Victory Rally from June 1 through June 4, and closing Narr Wegg Street during the event to allow running the dyno machine. Event coordinators had requested the event take place between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. each day but commissioners decided 7 a.m. was too early to start the noise making dyno machines and set the hours at 9 a.m. until 5 p.m.

A request for a fence encroachment between Escowee Property Holdings, LLC and the City of Helen was unanimously approved.

Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution authorizing a comprehensive adjustment to the fiscal year 2016-17 budgetary appropriations and held a second reading of an ordinance to amend the official code of the City regarding alcoholic beverages.

City Manager Jerry Elkins provided a financial report that showed total revenue collected by the city is $2,438,869 as compared to $2,299,386 at this time last year. Total expenditure are also slightly ahead of projections. Expenditures for the first nine months of the fiscal year are $1,922,518 compared to $1,896,838 at this time in 2016.




Helen to Hardman Heritage Trail Advances


HELEN, Ga. –Richard Riley provided an update on the Helen to Hardman Heritage Trail at Tuesday’s Helen City Commission meeting.

“This has become way beyond what any of us thought could ever be developed, a really quality venue,” he said.

The 4,400-foot long concrete walkway is a Department of Natural Resources project that will connect the City of Helen to Hardman Farm Historic Site. It will be about 8 to 10-feet wide and will run along an old railroad bed on DNR property overlooking the Chattahoochee River. “We have a beautiful design with beautiful stone benches where you can sit and look out over the river and Nora Mills, an iconic spot.”

The $1.5 million project is being designed by Marietta-based Freedman Engineering Group and funded primarily by the state but with some help from White County and the City of Helen. It will be handicapped accessible with no motorized vehicles permitted. There will also be signs along the way that explain the area’s rich history.

“The more people we’ve talked to the more excited they have become,” Riley said. “This is a project that reflects very, very positively on the Sautee Nacoochee Valley heritage.”

Riley said requests for proposals (RFP) to build the trail will go out at the end of this month, a contractor will be chosen in May and he expects the trail to be completed by next Spring.


Disabled Vet Makes Powerful Plea For Helen Arts and Heritage Center


HELEN, Ga. — When you think about the Helen Arts and Heritage Center, you don’t think about the good work its volunteers perform for the veterans of Helen and White County and how much it means to them. But that is only because you haven’t met William Reed, a disabled veteran who served 18 years on active duty.

Reed’s powerful testimony at Tuesday’s Helen City Commission meeting not only made it clear what the HAHC means to him, it brought many in the room to tears.

Reed bravely stood before commissioners and, after a long, tearful pause, said, “I’m a disabled veteran. The program helped me a lot. It’s gotten me out of the house and involved in art. I feel it’s very important just to help keep me going, and to help other veterans. It helps us all get together.”

Reed thanked Veteran Art Program Director Lisa Cahill and Craft Care Specialist Nancy Ackerman for what they have done for him.

“(They) have been wonderful in supporting us and helping us. It really means a lot,” he said.

Reed’s testimony was so emotional there were numerous long pauses prompting Mayor Helen Wilkins to encourage him.

“Take your time,” she said. When he continued, he talked about how until he enrolled in the program, he didn’t go out in public much…how it had given him a sense of self worth.

Through a dual non-profit partnership with Help Heal Veterans, Inc., HAHC provides quality art based craft project kits, programs and activities designed specifically with the needs of veterans in mind.

But Ackerman said HAHC needs funding to continue to serve the community and she asked the commission to consider $20,000 in funding for 2017 and $30,000 for 2018.

The HAHC website says “Art is therapy. If we can offer something of quality to a group of men and women who have already given so much of themselves for us, then we have accomplished our goal.”

Workshops meet on Tuesdays from 10 am  until noon. All veterans and spouse/caregivers are welcome.

City Council could vote on Ackerman’s request at its next meeting.

HAHC is located at 25 Chattahoochee Strasse


Commission Could Approve $570,000 Pedestrian Bridge Tuesday


HELEN, Ga. — The Helen City Commission is expected to approve a resolution authorizing the Georgia Department of Transportation and the City to ratify a contract for funding a pedestrian bridge on Main Street near Paul’s Steakhouse.

The joint agreement has a price tag of around $570,000. The state will be responsible for $300,000 and city taxpayers will fund the remainder.

The city is also receiving bids from contractors for the Escowee Street Sidewalk Project. City Manager Jerry Elkins said only one bid had been received as of late Monday afternoon but he expected to receive at least two more before tomorrow’s meeting.

Commission is also expected to appoint three members to the Planning, Design and Review Board, consider providing the United Way of White County a letter of approval to obtain a special event, non-profit license from the Georgia Department of Revenue for the sale of alcoholic beverages for consumption on premises in conjunction with a celebrity golf tournament dinner to be held in the Holiday Inn Express Conference Center on April 17.


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