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Flowery Branch asked to run South Hall sewer
Lutz says city could offset rate hikes
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Hall County is looking for a company to operate its South Hall sewer system, and Hall County Commissioner Craig Lutz wants Flowery Branch to throw its name in the hat.

The county issued a request for qualifications in February to maintain the 750,000-gallon-per-day water treatment facility, 13 pump stations and more than 2,000 customers.

County officials received bids from Environmental Management Services, a water and sewer company based in Tate, which currently operates the system, and Engineering Management, a Lawrenceville-based company that works on plants in Braselton, Helen and Hiawassee.

On Tuesday, Lutz suggested Flowery Branch enter the contest. He included Flowery Branch City Council members on an email he sent to an undisclosed list of Flowery Branch residents.

"Are you happy with your sewer rates? If you are a resident of Sterling on the Lake, I would assume not," he wrote. "If you are a non-Sterling resident on the Flowery Branch sewer system, how do you feel about a rate hike?"

When Lutz ran for his commission seat, his platform included fair and equitable sewer rates. Sterling on the Lake residents pay a $42 flat fee rather than a variable based on how much water is used per household.

"Every Flowery Branch sewer user has service coming to them from Oakwood, and part will be
devoted to Braselton, so that's revenue they're going to lose," Lutz said Wednesday. "We still have to pay to run the plant, so that loss of revenue will come in rate increases."

Under a $2.1 million project, Oakwood is installing a force main line on Ga. 53/Winder Highway to Jackson County, connecting with the Braselton sewer system. As part of an agreement between the two cities, Oakwood would receive as much as 2.5 million gallons per day in sewer capacity from Braselton.

If Flowery Branch operated the South Hall plant, the city could make money and offset a rate increase, Lutz said.

"With my experience on the Flowery Branch council and the budget, I feel like the city could potentially run that plant for a lot less," he said.

"Some people on the council don't agree that the city should get involved, and the e-mail was intended to encourage residents to call their council members and encourage them to change their minds."

Mayor Mike Miller, City Manager Bill Andrew, council member Chris Fetterman and council member Tara Richards met with Bob Troxler, the city's consulting engineer, on Wednesday morning to discuss the idea.

Miller opposes any involvement, saying Flowery Branch didn't meet the qualifications deadline in the first place.

"Today we discussed the pros and cons of that facility and the potential costs involved in that, and Flowery Branch doesn't meet the qualifications list sent out by the county," he said. "At this point, Commissioner Lutz is asking for us to spend taxpayer money to pursue something that the city doesn't even qualify for."

The qualification process required detailed information about each company's staff, experience with similar sewer services, performance on past contracts and references for those similar services.

The two companies will give presentations to Hall County staff on April 20, including the pricing. A final recommendation will go to the Hall County Board of Commissioners in May. If commissioners rejected both groups in May, then Flowery Branch could enter the stage.

"At this point, the only way that Flowery Branch could get involved would be through an intergovernmental agreement that doesn't violate the laws of the county's request for qualifications process and is financially beneficial for the city," Miller said.

"I'm willing to take a look at it then, but I don't think Commissioner Lutz has the support from the county commissioners for Flowery Branch to run that sewer plant, which is why I'm opposed."