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Flowery Branch revisits commercial sewer surcharge
$15 fee was added earlier this year
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FLOWERY BRANCH — Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew plans to review the fairness of charging all businesses a $15-per-month sewer surcharge added earlier this year to monitor grease traps.

Further study might involve looking at spreading some of city’s costs involved in the matter to residential customers.

Andrew discussed the matter Wednesday morning with City Council.

Council had OK’d the surcharge for commercial sewer users to help pay for testing and inspections, as required through new laws governing general sewer use and the discharge of fats, oils and greases into public sewers.

Since then, city officials have heard objections from businesses that the surcharge is unfair because it doesn’t account for the size of businesses as well as whether they have a grease trap, or if they have a grease trap, how frequently it is used.

Andrew presented a letter to City Council from Martin Marsell, owner of the Papa John’s pizza restaurant at 4605 Elk Ridge Court, expressing concerns over the surcharge.

“At the present time, we are very concerned about additional charges in light of the current business climate,” he said.

Marsell also said he already pays $300 every four months to have the restaurant’s grease trap cleaned.

“We believe the amendment to charge local businesses (additionally) for fats, oils and greases is unfair in light of the steps we have taken to prevent (them) from entering the sewer system,” Marsell wrote.

Andrew said the surcharges will generate about $25,380 among 141 commercial accounts, 33 of which have grease traps.

Testing, which would have to be done about twice year on every grease trap, could cost $14,355. Labor costs might amount to $12,480, not including use of a consultant as needed.

Andrew said one concern he had was putting too much of the financial burden on heavier users.

“It all gets back to the fact that we have such a small customer base to spread these costs out with,” he said. “... We’ve always done some level of this testing; it’s just never been done on this level and with this amount of reporting.”

Another issue is businesses can change operations on the spur of the moment.

“The man who owns Papa John’s is saying ‘We do little grease,’ but he could start serving fried cheese sticks tomorrow and he might quadruple the amount of grease he’s using,” Andrew said.

“... It’s a very complicated situation, and I’m not saying we’re anywhere close to solving it today.”

Councilman Craig Lutz said one option might be requiring a base fee for the effort, then “for those that you can target as a heavy (fats, oils and greases) user, you add the additional permit fee ... to offset everybody else.”

“But however we go, I definitely want to at the end of the budget year (present) a line item that says, ‘This is because of an unfunded mandate we got from the (state) legislature,’” Lutz said. “And then we can go back to them and say, ‘This is what’s causing pain for our small businesses.’”

When the topic of whether to spread the charge to town residents arose, Councilman Allen Bryans Sr. said, “Is that a fair situation? ... I don’t see where that’s fair.”

Lutz said he believes it is a scenario worth exploring.

“The residential base is a ton larger than the business base and there is a direct benefit to the residents of this community by having thriving small business here,” he said.

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