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Flowery Branch offices shuffle around downtown
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Flowery Branch Mayor Diane Hirling discusses the city’s acquisition of two new buildings and the lease of two others on Main Street in downtown Flowery Branch.

Flowery Branch City Council approved the purchase of two buildings for city use Wednesday.

At a cost of $300,000, the city now owns 5511 Main St. and 5509 Main St., which it has been renting for the past two years for use by the city’s planning department.

"We’re looking at it as an investment because now we own an entire block," Flowery Branch Mayor Diane Hirling said. "We’re not sure yet what we’ll do with them, but we’re using them as an investment for the city. We could turn it into a municipal complex someday."

Hirling said the city will lease the building at 5511 Main St. for $900 per month to Flowery Branch United Karate currently operating at that location.

In addition to the purchase of the two buildings on Main Street, the council also decided to relocate the city’s planning department and city manager office to two separate units located directly across from city hall at 5512 and 5514 Main St.

The city has an annually renewable three-year lease with the buildings’ owner, Hortman and Dobbs LLC.

Hirling said the city will pay Hortman and Dobbs $2,200 per month to lease the two units that will house the 2,100-square-foot planning department and city manager’s office, a conference room and a plotter that prints large geographical information system maps for city and public use.

Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew said the city staff needs more space in which to work and will likely move into the new buildings within the next two weeks.

"The City of Flowery Branch is setting a higher development standard, particularly for commercial and residential properties in the community, and we felt that might be easier to do with public facilities that look more professional," Andrew said of the leased buildings.

Auditor Dan Walker also informed Flowery Branch City Council today that the city’s water and sewer services were operating at a minimal loss.

Andrew said the city sewer and water revenue for the past fiscal year generated $1,326,943 in total operating revenue, but the city made a profit of only $62,072.

"When you factor in the interest charges, then we’re actually completely in the hole $33,374," Andrew said. He added that the city’s sewer and water systems have been operating at a loss for several years now.

In an effort to generate more revenue from the city’s water and sewer, Andrew said the city approved to pay the Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project nearly $3,000 to conduct a study investigating how much the city should increase customers’ sewer and water rates for the systems to operate with a profit. Andrew said the new rates could be in place by July 1.

Andrew added the city signed a bond agreement in 2004, now held with Bank of America, that requires the city to increase water and sewer rates 20 percent each year for five years. He said the city staff is currently considering charging Flowery Branch sewer and water customers a differential rate that would charge customers located farther away from the sewer and water plant more than customers located nearby.

Hirling added that the city makes bi-annual payments on the five-year bond totalling $360,000 each year. And despite the current loss at which the city’s sewer and water treatment plant is operating, Hirling said the city is not having trouble meeting the financial requirements of the bond.

The city also approved to pay the Carl Vinson Institute of Government at the University of Georgia $3,500 to undertake a study examining the salary of city staff.

"We’re doing that to try to bring our wages up to standard," Hirling said. "We believe we’re paying all our employees less than other cities our size are paying, and we need to be competitive with our wages."