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Flowery Branch passes budgets after cutting $400,000 in capital spending
New service charge likely for utility customers
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Hear Mayor Diane Hirling describe the sacrifices the city made to balance its budget.
Flowery Branch sewer, water and solid waste customers soon could be paying a new service charge to balance the city’s utilities fund budget passed Wednesday.

Flowery Branch City Council approved a $2,390,310 sewer, water and solid waste budget for fiscal year 2009, effective July 1. They also passed a $3,498,691 general fund budget for the upcoming year.

For the past several years, the city’s enterprise fund, which includes city water, sewer and solid waste services, has lost money.

Diane Hirling, Flowery Branch’s mayor, said the city cut nearly $400,000 in capital improvements for sewer and water structures to balance the enterprise fund budget, which ideally should be making money for the city.

But with a roughly $3.5 million debt owed to Hall County for funds lended to the city for its treatment plant expansion to 1 million gallons, combined with about 600,000 gallons per day of capacity reserved by Oakwood and Hall County stagnant in the plant, Hirling said the city has been having trouble breaking even on its sewer and water services.

"As more people come on-line ... we’ll be generating more revenue (from sewer and water services)," she said. "But with the building down right now, there’s not as much revenue from water and sewer."

She said the city is in a tight situation. Funds for sewer and water infrastructure improvements had to be cut to balance the enterprise budget, and those improvements could have the potential to bring in more revenue for the city.

"I would’ve liked to see some of those capital funds happen, but they still might happen," Hirling said. "(The city manager) is going after some grants for those capital funds now."

Hirling said water line repairs and new hydrants on Lights Ferry Road are at the top of the sewer and water capital improvements list.

New sewer rates as well as additional service charges for city sewer, water and solid waste customers will be considered at the council’s next meeting on June 18. The new rates and service charges could be used to offset administrative solid waste costs and the lack of sewer and water revenue coming into the city.

With the general fund and enterprise fund budgets already approved, the city is committed to new sewer and water rates, as well as additional monthly service charges for water, sewer and garbage.

Hirling said the proposed service charge rate structure would impose an additional monthly fee of $3.50 for water, sewer and garbage customers; a $2.50 fee for water and sewer only customers; and a $1 fee for garbage only customers.

Ed Lezaj, former Flowery Branch city councilman addressed the council regarding the new service charges and cautioned them that some residents might perceive the additional charges as hidden tax increases.

Chris Fetterman, Flowery Branch city councilman, attempted unsuccessfully to hold the vote for the budgets until the council’s next meeting, when it will consider the new utility rates and service charges.

Bill Andrew, Flowery Branch city manager, said the city aims to pull its water and sewer treatment plant out of its operational loss pattern and to maintain a self-sufficient enterprise fund. Curtailing water and sewer capital improvements is a step in that direction for now, he said.

"We’ve turned a large ship around in a rather small area," he said. "I think it puts us in a much stronger position."

And for the general fund, Andrew said the city transferred about $295,000 from its initial $1,049,000 reserve account to help balance its budget. He said the remainder of the reserve account will serve as a safety net for city operations.

"We’ll have that for times that are economically difficult, obviously like we’re experiencing now," Andrew said.

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