Also on Thursday night, the Flowery Branch City Council:
- Gave its informal approval to a request by Fifth Row Center, a South Hall-based community theater, to lease a downtown office building owned by the city. An official vote, which could take place in a month, would allow Fifth Row to lease 5509 Main St. for $1 per month for six months, then $250 per month thereafter.
- Approved on first reading a trash ordinance that requires residents to either contract with a company approved by the city or dispose of trash on their own, such as through a Hall County compactor site. The old ordinance required residents to use a city-approved provider for trash pickup and the city handled the billing.
- Gave final OK to set a special election for Sept. 21 to fill a council seat vacated by Craig Lutz, who is running for the District 1 seat on the Hall County Board of Commissioners. Qualifying will take place June 21-25 at City Hall, 5517 Main St.
- Voted to name Councilman Mike Miller as mayor pro tem. The vote was 3-2, with Mayor Diane Hirling casting the deciding vote. Councilman Chris Fetterman also had expressed interest in the post.
All Flowery Branch residents could soon be paying the same water and sewer rates, and for longtime residents, that could mean digging deeper into their pockets.
At Thursday night’s City Council meeting, City Manager Bill Andrew said the proposed budget for 2010-11 calls for basic water rates set at $24.89 monthly and sewer rates at $29.87.
The current rate structure, 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.
Residential customers 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.
So, basic rates would go up $12.47 monthly, or about $150 yearly, for longtime residents.
Former councilman Allen Bryans Sr. objected to the new rates in a public hearing on the budget, which takes effect July 1.
“A lot of the people in old town are on fixed income,” he told City Council. “It’s going to make a hardship on some of those people.”
Bryans was part of a council including two other longtime residents, Pat Zalewski and Mary Jones, who pushed for the rate disparity in 2008.
At the time, Zalewski said the different rates require newer residents to pay for water infrastructure improvements the city had made to its more than 50-year-old water pipes since 2000.
“I think all the old residents have paid for the system since it started, and they’ve paid for all the new residents coming in,” she said. “I think the differential rates are fair.”
Zalewski and Jones also are no longer on the council. They, along with Bryans, decided not to seek re-election last year.
They were replaced by three relative newcomers to the city — Kris Yardley and Sterling residents Mike Miller and Tara Richards — joined by Sterling resident Chris Fetterman, who voted against the rates in 2008.
Earlier this year, the city contracted with a Roswell-based firm, Cybergov Consultants, to study the city’s utility rate structure and make recommendations.
The city is otherwise proposing a $3.6 million budget that, Andrew has said, calls for the tax rate to remain the same. Revenues have dropped since this year, but city officials have made up the difference with cuts in expenses.
The budget does call for one rising expense — $48,122 to pay for the Better Hometown Program, compared to $19,925 this year.
Andrew said program costs are higher because the budget calls for a full-time manager. Former Better Hometown manager Dinah Wayne, who retired last year, “was only paid on an hourly basis,” he said.
Bryans also took aim at that expense.
“At the present time, with the amount of building that’s going on in Flowery Branch, I don’t see why the planning department could not take care (of the program) and save that money,” he said.
“We have several options that we’re looking at,” Mayor Diane Hirling said.