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Flowery Branch may enact new stormwater annual fee
Riker to research cities and report findings
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Built on a hill, downtown Flowery Branch has bore the brunt of unforgiving rainfalls.

One can notice property erosion and parts of streets buckling, just walking the streets, City Manager Bill Andrew told the Flowery Branch City Council Saturday morning.

"These ditches are getting to the point where they're not working anymore," he said. "They look terrible; they're getting bigger. The roads are being undermined in several different locations and private property is getting undermined. We've got to do something about this part of town."

City officials, meeting at City Hall for an annual retreat, discussed ways to pay for an updated stormwater system, possibly including through the assessment of an annual fee.

The city now has no "dedicated funds" to maintain the system, which is mainly a series of ditches, pipes, culverts and channels that are supposed to divert flood waters away from homes and businesses.

"Money could be used to replace culverts and galvanized pipes," City Planner James Riker said.

"Some of the pipes we do have are rotten and in need of repair. ... We have no idea what it would cost to pipe our ditches downtown, but we are trying to get a better understanding of that."

In addition to downtown, several culverts crossing Mulberry Creek, which runs largely parallel to Atlanta Highway, a main road through Flowery Branch, particularly concern city officials.

"We have looked at the flow going to those, and we think that, over time, there are a few that have the possibility to be washed out like (the Spring Street) one did," Riker said.

The Spring Street culvert collapsed Dec. 9, 2009, after a night of steady rainfall, stranding residents in a 50-unit apartment complex. That project cost the city $150,000, including the construction of a temporary road.

"That's a liability that's floating around out there that could come any day, depending on the weather," Riker said, showing the council a picture of the new Spring Street culvert. "We don't know how long we have to act."

Four culverts could cost as much as $600,000 combined to replace.

City Attorney Ron Bennett said the city is liable also when stormwater overflows onto private property.

"Once you start moving (water) around and directing it, which we do, via ditches or open swells or pipes, you then take on the responsibility ... to do that properly and to make sure that the facilities are designed in such a way to prevent flooding," he told council.

Riker said Decatur charges its residents $75 per year for stormwater upkeep. Bennett said that Sugar Hill charges $18 per 1,000 square feet of impervious, or impenetrable, surface.

Councilman Kris Yardley, punching numbers on a calculator, quickly calculated that if the 2,500 or so property owners in Flowery Branch were charged $50 per year for the service, the city could raise about $125,000.

With that amount, Riker said, "we'd be well on our way to correcting these problems."

"If we use the general fund as we are now (for improvements)," Andrew said, "you're taxing businesses and individuals to pay for work being done here that is not necessarily benefiting them."

Businesses particularly have "stormwater structures in place that they're required to(put in), so their fee would be lower than maybe a homeowner's fee."

"For my money," Yardley said, "(the fee) would have to be minimal and probably something we would need to ... throw before the community and talk to them about it."

He said he would prefer to cover the expenses through cuts in the city's budget, "but if that can't happen, we need to let people know (this fee) is a possibility."

"The procedure for setting up a storm water utility is not particularly difficult, now that a lot of other jurisdictions have paved the way," Bennett said, adding that Griffin's city attorney has said that holding public hearings is critical in setting up fees.

"It would serve the council well to hold those town hall meetings and educate the public on ... the real things that are happening in the community that we're all contributing to and there's an equitable way to set up a fee based on how much impervious surface you have."

Riker said he could start looking at how other cities have tackled the issue and then report back to council "on how we can moved forward."

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