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Flowery Branch ends furloughs thanks to improved budget outlook
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Monthly furloughs are over for Flowery Branch employees.

Flowery Branch City Council members ended the practice, which began July 1, during a Saturday meeting to delve into ongoing and future issues in the city.

City Manager Bill Andrew broached the subject at the council's Feb. 18 meeting, justifying it by saying that the 2009-10 budget's outlook was much better than at the time it was set last year.

Turns out the city could end the fiscal year on June 30 with a surplus of $150,000 to $180,000, thanks to an underbudgeting of property tax revenue and overbudgeting of insurance costs.

Council members only ended the furloughs, however, after hearing assurances from Andrew that the city had a 90-day emergency reserve. After crunching some numbers on a calculator, he said the city had enough money to pay for 94.3 days of government operation.

"Technically, that's the reserve fund (shown by) the audit," he cautioned council members. "On June 30, I can't go over (to the bank) and wallow around in $695,000, but it's there because of the audit."

The cost to the city to end the furloughs is about $22,000, including about $5,000 from the city's water and sewer fund.

During the discussion, City Clerk Melissa McCain said she had planned to take a furlough day Thursday for surgery.

"Sounds like a vacation day now," Councilman Craig Lutz said, drawing some chuckles in the room.

The city is gearing up for its 2010-11 budget, with meetings set up among council members to look at the results of a utility rates study in April and a review of the general-fund budget in May.

Public hearings could take place May 20 on the budget and sewer and water rates. The council is looking to vote on the entire budget June 3.

Saturday's meeting covered a wide range of issues, including the status of South Hall sewer as it involves Flowery Branch, Oakwood and Hall County governments, a downtown transportation study, Flowery Branch's zoning code and development projects either in the works or envisioned.

Much of the talk centered around long-term ideas, such as the eventual expansion of the city's sewer plant on Atlanta Highway and the buildout of Old Town Flowery Branch, a $15 million, multipurpose development planned for downtown.

All council members seemed to rally around the idea of trying to lure live theater, such as that offered by South Hall's Fifth Row Center, to downtown Flowery Branch.

Mayor Diane Hirling asked City Planner James Riker if two vacant, city-owned buildings next to City Hall could accommodate such a use.

Riker said he didn't think so particularly, but that didn't stop council members from pressing the issue.
Fifth Row's productions at Sterling on the Lake, a vast subdivision on Spout Springs Road in the city, draw hundreds of people, Councilman Chris Fetterman said.

The city should explore options "while the economy is slow, to get something into this town, even if (the venue is) just as small as those buildings and we got to do a little bit of changing to get that," he said. "... We need something to draw foot traffic (downtown)."

In another, less bright matter for the city, Andrew said revenues for the Special Purpose Local Option Sales Tax are coming in at 75 percent of projected amounts.

The city had projected generating abut $2.5 million over six years from the penny tax but is on track for about $1.88 million, or some $612,000 less, Andrew said.

Flowery Branch has expected spending about $1.3 million alone on running a sewer line from Cinnamon Cove condominium complex at 6500 Gaines Ferry Road to the sewer plant. That project calls for building two sewer lift stations, including one replacing an aging sewer plant at the Cinnamon Cove, and a force main line.

Andrew has said the work could begin later this year, with construction taking six to eight months.
There was a bright spot in the lower revenue projections.

"There's the idea, in talking with the (Hall County) engineer, about what they've been seeing in bids for large projects ... and they've been shockingly low," Andrew told council. "So, our engineers are telling us we could go lower than $1.3 million (in costs), even though on paper their numbers are showing the costs to be (up to) $1.5 million."

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