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Split vote raises sewer, water rates
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New Flowery Branch residents will shell out more money for city water and sewer services than residents who have lived in the city before June 2000.

With a 3-2 vote, the Flowery Branch City Council approved higher water and sewer rates that not only differentiate between residential and commercial customers inside and outside of the city, but also make distinctions between residents living inside city limits.

The city also passed a 20 percent increase in water and sewer rates to satisfy the requirements of a five-year bond agreement made in 2004. In addition, the City Council redefined the initial allotment for water customers from 2,500 gallons per month to 4,500 gallons per month.

Bill Andrew, Flowery Branch city manager, said the average household in Georgia uses about 4,300 gallons of water per month, and most city water customers won’t break the 4,500-gallon mark. But regardless of how much water a customer uses, they will be charged for the full 4,500 gallons per month, Andrew said.

And after water customers’ usage exceeds 4,500 gallons per month, new state-imposed conservation rates now require increased payment for each successive tier.

Flowery Branch Councilmen Craig Lutz and Chris Fetterman voted against the differential sewer and water rates for city residents.

The new water rates require residents who have lived within city limits before June 2000 to pay $19.90 for the base 4,500 gallons per month allotment, compared to the old rate of $16.58 for 2,500 gallons per month. New residents who have moved to Flowery Branch since 2000 will now pay $24.89 for 4,500 gallons per month rather than the previous $16.58 for 2,500 gallons per month.

Newer residents will pay about $7 more per month than other residents for sewer service.

Also, residents can now get a $10 discount on their monthly water bill if they have been declared disabled or if they are head of the household and 65 years of age or older.

Based on 2007-2008 customer figures, about 70 percent of city water or sewer customers fall into the new inside residential category.

New inside residential water customers will now pay the same rates as residential customers outside city limits and commercial customers located inside and outside city limits.

Andrew said charging new residents more for water service is justified because the city has made costly capital investments in water infrastructure since June 2000 to accommodate new residents.

Lutz and Fetterman, who both said that as Sterling on the Lake residents they are not Flowery Branch water or sewer customers, spoke against the inside residential distinction calling it discriminatory.

"Basically, you’ll have two people living next door to one another who are paying two dramatically different rates," Lutz said.

Flowery Branch Councilwoman Pat Zalewski said the different rates require newer residents to fund the water infrastructure improvements the city has 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," Zalewski said. "I think the differential rates are fair."

In addition to the new rate structure, the City Council unanimously passed a new service charge for all city water and sewer customers.

The service charge will require water and sewer customers to pay an additional monthly fee of $2.50, and will require water or sewer only customers to pay an additional $1.50 each month.

Andrew said the service charges will cover rising costs associated with city staff reading water meters, mailing bills and handling telephone calls regarding utility services.

The City Council will consider imposing another $1 service charge for city trash customers on July 2, which would support increasing fuel costs incurred when city staff collects debris not picked up by Red Oak Sanitation.

The new rate structure, as well as water and sewer service charges, will be implemented on July 1, Andrew said.

Jeff Gill contributed to this report.