Flowery Branch residents will soon see changes in their utility and trash disposal bills.
City Council took two key votes Thursday night, one to even up sewer and water charges for all residents and the other to approve a citywide waste disposal contractor at a lower rate than what residents have been paying.
On the utility rates, the new rate structure for residential and commercial users ends the city's practice of charging residents different amounts based on how long they have lived in the city.
Those who moved into the city after June 2000 were paying higher rates than older or "established" customers.
Established customers now will pay what the newer residents have been paying, meaning they'll see about a 25 percent hike in their rates.
"I'm glad we're finally putting everybody on equal ground," said Councilman Chris Fetterman, who was in the minority when the council approved the rate disparity in 2008.
Another big change over the old structure is that residents will pay less for less water or sewer usage.
The base water charge drops to $5.53 monthly for up to 1,000 gallons from $24.89 for up to 4,500 gallons.
The base sewer charge drops to $6.64 monthly for up to 1,000 gallons from $29.87 for up to 4,500 gallons.
So, the monthly bill, which includes other charges, will drop to about $15 from $57 for those who use less than 1,000 gallons.
City Manager Bill Andrew has said he believes that additional revenue from higher rates across the board will more than make up the loss in revenue from the reduced rates for low water and sewer users.
The new rate structure, which also affects customers outside the city using water or sewer, goes into effect in October, with the first bills going out in November.
Regarding trash service, City Council approved an ordinance in June to give residents the choice of either contracting with a company approved by the city or disposing trash on their own, such as at a Hall County compactor site.
The law also called for the new provider, not the city, to handle billing.
Thursday night, the council approved Red Oak Sanitation as the garbage contractor.
Red Oak, which submitted the lowest fees among four qualified bidders, will charge $11.65 per month for garbage and curbside recycling pickup, along with accepting refuse and yard trimmings.
The charge is 35 cents less per month than what residents were paying to the city.
The only issue for residents is that the city and Red Oak bill differently and at different times, so bills should initially overlap.
"Can we not adapt to the current billing period so we don't have ... people thinking they're getting double-charged and their rates went up?" Councilwoman Tara Richards asked a Red Oak official in the room.
The official told council that couldn't happen because "our whole company is set up" on the schedule Flowery Branch residents will follow.
"We will send out a letter ... telling (residents) what's going to happen," City Clerk Melissa McCain said.
"I don't know how to smooth the transition," Richards said, "but I foresee a very awkward time."
Andrew said, "There's going to be some communication that we're just going to have to try to make as much as we can."
Residents need to be alerted to both the trash pickup and utility rate changes, he added.
"We're just going to do our best to get some mailings out there that are clear and concise," Andrew said.