Flowery Branch is looking at possibly adding a charge to property tax bills to cover the upkeep of the city’s street lights.
City Council is considering several scenarios to address a longstanding inequity — the city paying for street lights in some neighborhoods, while residents in other areas are paying for lights, such as through homeowner association dues.
The issue was spurred in late 2010 by Madison Creek subdivision residents complaining about having to pay nearly $35 per month per street light to Georgia Power when other residents were paying nothing above what normal property taxes cover for their lights.
They ended up agreeing in February to have the city serve as the go-between with Georgia Power and residents to pay a much lower governmental rate of $15 per month.
At the same time, city officials talked about crafting a street light ordinance aimed at equally distributing the cost of street lights among all property owners.
City Planner James Riker presented the basics of a street light ordinance to council members Thursday night.
Council members could later decide exact charges and other specifics, which could take effect with tax bills going out Oct. 1.
Riker presented a few scenarios that council members could consider.
One of those divides the city into several street light assessment districts, with residents paying just for the publicly funded lights in their district based on the number and expense of the lights.
But that scenario presents a special problem for residents along Atlanta Highway, a main thoroughfare through town that features particularly expensive lights. Those residents could end up paying more than $200 per year in their tax bills.
Another scenario has all residents in areas where city-maintained street lights are located share in the costs. Residents would end up paying $27.
Riker also said the city could consider requiring all property owners, regardless of their street light situation, to pay. That would drop the bill to $13.26.
Council members asked city staff to consider other scenarios, including one that addresses just the residents whose lights are subsidized by the city.
They also considered the whole nature of the additional tax and how the city could justify it to residents.
“In 2010, we paid our light bills. What have we added that now we feel we’ve got to make people pay more money ... to pay for the lights?” Councilman Joe Anglin asked.
“Rising costs and declining revenues kind of force you to shift dollars,” Councilman Kris Yardley said.
The city adopted this year’s budget, which took effect July 1, based on the city collecting most of the nearly $36,000 it spends annually on street lights through the new charge. Basically, the budget covers street lights through Nov. 1.
City Manager Bill Andrew said funding issues shouldn’t drive the discussion over passing the new street lights law, adding that the budget can be amended as needed.
“Don’t feel that that’s hemming in your ability to think about this freely,” he said.