0328RATESaudListen as Flowery Branch City Councilman Craig Lutz talks about the history of the city’s water and sewer structure and his opposition to it.
In a move to balance out water and sewer rates in Flowery Branch, longtime users could end up paying a little more and newer residents, a little less.
Flowery Branch has contracted with a Roswell-based firm, Cybergov Consultants, to study the city’s utility rate structure that has been in place since October 2008.
The study, costing the city $3,700, is expected to be finished in mid-April in step with city officials’ efforts to knit together a budget for fiscal 2011, which begins July 1.
A public hearing on the budget and utility rates is set for May 20, with a vote on the entire budget set for June 3.
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 pay $24.89 for up to 4,500 gallons of water and $29.87 for up to 4,500 gallons of sewer.
A city council comprising three longtime residents — Pat Zalewski, Mary Jones and Allen Bryans Sr. — held sway over the decision, initially made in June 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.”
Flowery Branch Councilmen Craig Lutz and Chris Fetterman voted against the rates. Both are Sterling on the Lake residents but said at the time they were not Flowery Branch water or sewer customers.
Zalewski, Jones and Bryans are no longer on the council, having decided not to seek re-election last year. They have been replaced by three relative newcomers to the city: Kris Yardley and Sterling residents Mike Miller and Tara Richards.
“There is a ... fundamental problem with the rate structure,” Lutz said in an interview last week. “With two people who may be neighbors, one person moving in after a certain date than another person, the person living here longer may have gotten a substantial discount (on their bill).
“The way (the council) looks at it is if you’re a citizen of the city, it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been here — the water is the same for both people and each of you should be paying the same rate.”
When asked about concerns over a possible rate hike, longtime resident Jerry Crow said he wasn’t that familiar with the study to offer much comment.
“But I’m sure the older residents — it (would) hit them hard,” he said. “It (would) hit everybody hard right now because businesses are doing no business. It’s a tough time to start increasing (charges).”
The city also is concerned about aging sewer and water pipes.
City Manager Bill Andrew said that when he began with the city several years ago, the utility rates were “artificially low.”
The city hadn’t been “looking at long-term maintenance on various infrastructure, whether it was pumps or lines,” he said.
Also, the city’s general fund was partially subsidizing sewer and water operations.
“Obviously, you want (the two budgets) to be supporting themselves, which is what ours are doing now,” Andrew said.
The city also is looking at how it pays for the costs of monitoring grease traps.
Last year’s adoption of a $15-per-month sewer surcharge on all businesses has caused an uproar, especially among those not operating a grease trap.
“They say any business could put (chemicals) into the sewer lines. Well, so can a resident. A resident can paint; a resident can cook more than a retail shop,” said Janet Upchurch, owner of Sample Pleasures, a Main Street antique shop.
“In my opinion, (the expense) needs to be spread out to everybody in town — all residents and businesses,” she said. “Then, (the surcharge) would be a few cents.
“Right now, each business has to absorb another $15 — it doesn’t seem like a lot of money, but in these times, that’s another bill.”