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Flowery Branch to address long-term needs at retreat
Leaders to discuss SPLOST, roads and sewer projects
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City Council retreat

What: Flowery Branch government officials are meeting to discuss a wide range of issues, including public works, water and sewer, and downtown redevelopment
When: 8 a.m.-5 p.m. Saturday
Where: City Hall, 5517 Main St.
Contact: 770-967-6371

Flowery Branch's government officials are set to meet Saturday to plot improvements in the South Hall city, which holds the prospect of new and potentially large infusions of cash.

City leaders plan to discuss a flurry of major projects, such as roads and sewer, against the backdrop of a potential boost in revenue from the proposed 1-percent sales tax for transportation and the local option sales tax divided among Hall County and its cities.

"We have a whole list of things to discuss," Mayor Mike Miller said. "The retreat will allow us to hash out and prioritize those things."

The South Hall city, as do all local governments in the state, stands to gain in a big way if voters approve the transportation tax on July 31.

The state's Transportation Investment Act calls for 75 percent of the revenue to go for regional projects and 25 percent to city and county governments to spend on road work they deem necessary, including for maintenance and operations.

The tax will be collected until the projected amount — nearly $1.25 billion in the Georgia Mountains region that includes Hall County — is reached, but no longer than 10 years.

Voters in each region will decide whether to OK the tax, with 50 percent plus one vote meaning passage.

Flowery Branch completed a transportation study in 2010 that recommended $7.7 million in new roads, intersection and road improvements, and pedestrian and bicycle trails.

The plans basically have been shelved until funding sources develop.

One key project that officials have discussed is extending Snelling Drive to Lights Ferry Road, providing a now-lacking straight shot between two major arteries, Ga. 13/Atlanta Highway and McEver Road.

The city also hopes to see its share of local option sales tax money increase from $340,000 per year, because of its rise in population as reflected by the 2010 census. The annual boost could be between $400,000 and $600,000, City Manager Bill Andrew said.

Unlike the special purpose local option sales tax, which can only be used on voter-approved projects, LOST is a sales tax that local governments can use for day-to-day operations, lessening their reliance on property taxes.

Long-term planning is needed because of the revenue picture and the city's pressing needs, Andrew said.

"What seems to be a windfall now ... will have to be shepherded carefully because it won't be a windfall in five or six years," he said.

Miller said, "My hope is we'll come out of this session with some type of plan for our future."

He said the city created a finance director position — filled by Jeremy Perry, who comes from Hall County's finance department — to help steer the city on key money issues.

"It was a key job to fill, for that person to be in the planning stage for all of this," Miller said.

One of the city's major ongoing projects is the extension of a sewer line from the treatment plant on Atlanta Highway to the Cinnamon Cove operation on Gaines Ferry Road, opening up the southern part of town for future development.

That work will cost about $1.8 million, funded largely by voter-approved SPLOST revenues. City officials have discussed having to pull from other sources — such as water and sewer reserves — to finish it.

Also, the city is looking at improving its stormwater system, with officials calling for a study to determine needs and potential costs.

Another pressing need is a new government complex to house a police department, municipal court and other city offices. The city, which bought property at Main and Gainesville streets for that future use, now has offices scattered on both sides of Main Street and public works in a small building at the sewer plant.

"Our facilities are sorely lacking," Miller said.


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