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Flowery Branch $25 million water plan, rate hike puts city on 'good path,' manager says
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Bobby Sills, co-founder of Athens-based Nelsnick Associates, talks to Flowery Branch City Council Thursday, Oct. 3, about financing for planned sewer and water improvements in the South Hall city. - photo by Jeff Gill

Flowery Branch’s city manager said Thursday night he believes a financial plan to pay for $25.2 million in water and sewer upgrades will help set the South Hall city “on a good path.”

“We had been using operating money for years to basically pay off capital (project) expenses,” Bill Andrew told the Flowery Branch City Council at its Oct. 3 meeting. “It’s just been a mess.”

Andrew added, “You’re paying operational costs to cover when you take a shower, but a little bit of that money should be set aside to pay for that pipe being replaced.”

The city is poised to vote Oct. 17 on applying to the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority for a $20.1 million loan to build a new sewer plant and $5.1 million for water improvements, including a new 250,000-gallon water tank.

Paying off the loan is tied to annually increasing water and sewer rates, including a 5 percent hike proposed to take effect Oct. 18, with ratepayers seeing the increase in their November bills.

The vote on the rate hikes also is set for Oct. 17.

Bobby Sills of Nelsnick Associates, an Athens-based firm working with the city on its water and sewer plans, showed the council a chart projecting 6 percent water rate increases and 7 percent sewer rate increases starting next fiscal year and running through fiscal 2024.

However, “as we get more and more customers, it will help lessen that blow,” Andrew said.

Still, he pointed out “the new plant will wear out in 30-35 years, so hopefully what we’ll do is get on track and start setting aside some funds for that … and we won’t have to be taking out loans anymore. Most governments don’t get there, but some do.”

The city’s rapid growth is helping fuel the utility improvements.

The new plant would expand the city’s sewer capacity to 1.8 million gallons per day. The current plant is permitted to treat 1 million gallons per day.

“The expansion and upgrade of the plant is necessary because the existing plant is projected to reach capacity within the next three years,” a city report states.

Flowery Branch has about 1,300 sewer customers, with housing projects approved and under construction expected to add at least 900 homes within the next five years “if the economy stays strong,” the report says.

“Current city water demand is approximately 225,000 gallons per day,” the report says. “This figure is expected to more than double over the next 10 years, as Flowery Branch undergoes significant development.”

Also, “fire is an increasing concern because housing densities are increasing, resulting in possible multi-structure fires.”