By NEIL ZAWICKI
It’s been a busy week in the town manager’s office, and faulty water meters are at the center of the action.
The faulty meters, of which there are at least 70 out of the almost 2,500 in the town, are at least two decades old, and so for a variety of reasons are unreadable, which means the town cannot accurately charge the ratepayers at those properties. The stopgap measure has been to charge a non metered rate of $104.75 to those properties, but as town manager Don Turner explains it, that flat rate, based on an average 8,000 to 10,000 gallons per quarter, can be a detriment to town coffers, as well as placing a larger burden on ratepayers with working meters.
Also, Turner is concerned many ratepayers would rather pay the flat fee while using more water.
The town would like to replace the old ones with the new smart meters, which are readable through a radio signal and provide real time data on water use. But here’s the problem: The town owns the meters, but the meters are on private property. That means the town has to ask residents to let them come on their property to replace the meters.
Executive assistant Sheila Mooney sent our 68 letters last week to ratepayers with unreadable meters to ask permission to gain access to the aging meters.
“In order to remedy the situation, we need to gain access to the meter at your location,” reads the letter. It also advises the ratepayer that if they do not respond before September 1, the flat rate will be charged.
Again, that flat fee becomes problematic, because it invites ratepayers to use more water with no additional charge. Also, because aging meters read lower usage as they begin to fail, they help the consumer.
“It’s really unfair to the rest of the users when other users don’t pay,” Turner said.
The town still bills quarterly but has switched to monthly reading to track what meters are working properly and which need replacement. In the meantime, more than a few ratepayers have responded. Mooney fielded at least three calls and one walk-in Monday morning, all asking about problems with their meters. Some wanted to know how to pro rate their bill, while one complained about overcharging. Mooney explained to all of them that their meters are older and the town would like to replace them.
Each new meter costs $450, and Turner said the town is budgeted for 20 to 25 meter replacements each year.
“We’d like to replace them all,” he said. “We’re really trying to be proactive and make it fair for everyone.”