A proposed new set of utility rates — one that includes a nearly 30 percent hike for longtime Flowery Branch residents — is set for a vote on Sept. 23.
City Council voted Thursday night to delay the vote, upon the recommendation of City Manager Bill Andrew. He said the city is looking first to tweak city law to account for a $25 charge for tampering with meters.
In the meantime, city officials will look at several potential breaks for various groups of ratepayers, including seniors, low water and sewer users, and those least able to afford an increase.
Also, a Sept. 9 public hearing is set on the rates.
The new rate structure proposes to end residents paying different amounts based on how long they’ve lived in the city.
Current rates, with varying levels of commercial and residential charges based on usage amounts, has “established” residential customers paying $19.90 monthly for using up to 4,500 gallons of water and $22.39 for up to 4,500 gallons of sewer.
“New” residential customers, or those who moved into the city after June 2000, now pay $24.89 for up to 4,500 gallons of water and $29.87 for up to 4,500 gallons of sewer.
To have all users pay the same, established customers would now pay the new customers rate, meaning basic water-sewer rates would go up a combined $12.47 monthly, or about $150 yearly, for longtime residents.
The rate disparity dates to a 2008 council vote, with three of those five council members now gone.
They were succeeded in January by three relative newcomers to the city — Kris Yardley, Mike Miller and Tara Richards. They are joined by Councilman Chris Fetterman, who voted against the rates in 2008.
Former Councilman Craig Lutz, who cast the other nay vote in 2008, told the council Thursday night in asking for a delay in the vote, “I commend you on taking the difficult step in fixing something that has been wrong for many years.”
Lutz, a Republican, is running against Democrat Paul Wayne Godfrey for the South Hall seat on the Hall County Board of Commissioners.
Longtime resident Henry Skipper asked the council to consider a system of charging residents based on how much they use, rather than how much they can use. He was referring to the allowed 4,500 gallons per month of sewer or water.
“There are some individuals in Flowery Branch who are 80 and 90 years old, living on fixed income and welfare and they can’t (afford) a rate increase,” he said.
The proposed resolution does carry a hardship rate, which allows for a $10 discount monthly to the minimum water bill, for those who qualify. The rate is open to residents 65 or older and or who are disabled. Plus, there are income requirements.
One of the breaks city officials will be looking at is doubling that discount to $20 — $10 for water and $10 for sewer.
Another option would be to create a category for low water users.
Andrew told the council that he has observed that when the rates are lowered for one group of users another group will have to make up the difference with higher rates.