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Flowery Branch seeks meter readings data
South Hall city files open records request with Gainesville utility
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Flowery Branch officials followed through on a charge from their governing body Friday to try to obtain information from Gainesville through an open records request rather than pay the new fee for it.

On Friday, Flowery Branch City Clerk Melissa McCain filed an open records request with Gainesville for a monthly report on the water use of about 600 Flowery Branch residents who are customers of the city of Gainesville’s Public Utilities Department.

Flowery Branch uses the information from the utility to calculate its own sewer fees, according to Kelly Randall, director of the Gainesville utility.

Most of Gainesville’s customers in Flowery Branch are residents in subdivisions on Jim Crowe Road and business located in the Stonebridge Village shopping center on Spout Springs Road, Randall said.

Friday’s records request was a response to a decision Gainesville made earlier this year to begin charging outside entities, such as Flowery Branch and Braselton, for providing the information.

Gainesville has traditionally provided the meter readings to Flowery Branch for free, but in January the city utilities department will begin charging $1 for each meter reading it provides. The city set the fee based on what Etowah Water and Sewer pay for the service, Randall said.

Since sewer use is hard to meter, utilities usually calculate sewer bills at 85 percent of the customer’s water use, Randall said.

"We just figured, well, we ought to recoup our costs or get any revenues that we can get in that it will keep any costs down on our customers," Randall said.

Other municipalities have not had a problem with the new fee, Randall said. But on Wednesday, the Flowery Branch City Council asked City Manager Bill Andrew to file an open records request with Gainesville in an effort to obtain billing information for water customers.

Gainesville provides water service to about 250 customers in Flowery Branch that use the Flowery Branch sewer system.

Randall said Friday that the utility will have to determine what information it can provide Flowery Branch under the open records law. He said the utility may not be able to provide some information through an open records act because of recent federal legislation that restricts the utility from providing personal information on customers who have their bills automatically debited from their bank accounts.

Flowery Branch City Manager Bill Andrew could not be reached for comment Friday.