FLOWERY BRANCH — Several residents of TreePark Apartment Homes complained to Flowery Branch City Council on Thursday night about their water bills, sent to them through a private company, and asked for the government to intervene.
But the council didn't take any action, saying it wasn't government's role to force the hand of private business.
"I can feel your pain ... but government's place is not to dictate to businesses what to charge or what vendors to use," Mayor Mike Miller told the residents, who spoke up as part of the council's monthly meeting.
"It would be like us trying to go to Chick-fil-A and (saying) ... you've got to charge $1.50 for that chicken sandwich."
Greg Lyons told council members that he and other apartment residents "wish to have water meters individually read, so we are responsible for our own water usage."
He said that residents have been told the "water bill would be divided (among) all the residents evenly."
And yet, "some pay as low as $35 for a three-bedroom unit, while others have a two-bedroom unit and pay $60 — some pay $70," Lyons said. "We feel that is unfair and is discriminatory."
Eric Jackson said he was charged $16 for 2,350 gallons of water in his March-April bill and $21.10 for 1,100 gallons in his May-June bill.
"I find a lack of clarity in the billing system that's being used," he told council. "... We try to conserve water as best we can. I know water is a hot topic especially, with Lake Lanier, water consumption and water waste. But I feel like (there are no incentives) to conserve water."
No representative of the apartment complex, which is off Thurmon Tanner Parkway between Phil Niekro Boulevard and Atlanta Highway, spoke at the meeting. Nor could anyone be reached after the meeting.
"I know that (City Manager Bill) Andrews has expressed that we would be willing, as a city, to mediate (the situation)," Councilman Chris Fetterman told the residents.
"I don't feel it's government's job to force a private company to do something. I don't feel we would have a problem reading the meters if that's what TreePark wanted."
Lyons wasn't pleased with the council's reaction.
"I'm definitely disappointed," he said outside City Hall after the meeting. "There's more to it than just the business. There's a discriminatory action going on here and people are being abused."
He brought a petition, signed by residents at the complex, with him to the meeting. He said afterward he plans to ask for $20 from each of the residents to hire a lawyer.
The petition reads: "We, as residents, wish for the city to read our water meters individually so we are responsible solely for the water used by each apartment, so we can be billed accurately and fairly."
In a separate matter unrelated to the residents' complaints, City Council voted to give its first OK to an ordinance that requires a water meter for all homes, including individual apartments and other such units in a multifamily building, effective after final passage later this month.
The requirement "calls for every multifamily dwelling unit to have individual meters," City Planner James Riker said. "It doesn't require each of those meters to be read by the municipality."
The city, as a member of the Metropolitan North Georgia Water Planning District, had to consider the ordinance.
"A recent audit by the Georgia (Environmental Protection Division) ... noted that we need to adopt (it)," Riker said.
The council also had to move on an ordinance regulating future conveyor-type, or automatic car washes. At least half of the water they use must be recycled.
Both ordinances were approved unanimously. They will be come up for a final vote Dec. 15.