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Contention Over Water Meters Floods City Council Hearing

September 15, 2011

Newport City resident Richard Cartee expresses his opposition to residential water meters during a public hearing held at the Newport Municipal Building Monday evening. Photo by Christopher Roy

NEWPORT CITY – Once again the Newport City Council, on Monday night, got flooded with comments, concerns and questions over installing water meters in every home. This was the second of the three public hearings that are required before residents vote on the issue in November. Most apartment units, commercial buildings and some homes already have water meters installed. 
Joseph Duncan, a senior engineer for the consulting firm Aldrich and Elliott, said the city is not eligible for grants because the water rates are too low. Thus, the city is asking voters to approve using money from the capital fund to install the meters over several years. The city also wants a meter charge to earn revenue to cover replacement of the meters in 20 years or so. Property owners with older water meters will need to have them swapped out for ones read by a wireless receiver. 
One resident suggested the city use the 100 homeowners who volunteered to have meters installed be an average to bill everyone. However, Duncan pointed out that the 100 meters may not represent the entire city. 
Warren Friske, an owner of both a single-family home and apartment buildings, wanted to know why single-family homeowners would be charged more a quarter to subsidize heavy water users. Duncan said the current flat rate would go away if the city installs water meters. 
“The intention is to meter 100 percent of the city,” said Duncan, who added that in some instances it might not be possible to install a water meter.
Diane Chaput said the apartment building owners are not talking for themselves, but instead for their tenets, many of whom are on fixed incomes.
Page Worthern added that property owners with meters can prove how much water they use, but those without meters cannot. She said that many people are opposed to the way apartment buildings would be charged. According to the proposal an apartment building owner will be charged for the water used (according to the meter), plus a fee per living unit.
“Way back in the beginning, when I talked to [City Manager] John Ward about it he said ‘I think it’s fair,’” said Worthern. When she asked him two weeks ago why the council chose to charge per living unit, he said it was because it was easier. “I don’t think that’s the right reason for choosing a thing that even your engineer has said is not the fairest way to charge.”
Worthern said her request is that the council rethink the decision on the living unit charge. Worthern who served on the committee to investigate installing water meters suggested the city have a sinking fund for the meter project.
Not everyone at the meeting favors installing water meters. Richard Cartee said he is not convinced that the city should install a water meter in his home and that rates will not increase.
“I have yet to see anything produced in this city that provided a service for the taxpayers that we didn’t pay for one way or the other,” said Cartee. He said the city will get its money and the residents don’t have any say about it. “If there is any way I can prevent you from coming on my property and installing water meters in my home I will do it.”
Cartee said owners of apartment buildings have not paid their fair share. His solution to those who say they do not make any money is to “get out of the business.”
Cartee said that as a homeowner it is his privilege to own a dishwasher and a washing machine, and to wash his car and water his garden.
Some residents are more conscientious than others, Duncan said.
Ernest Choquette, who agrees with Duncan, said he installed meters that tell where the heat is going in each apartment. 
“Meters do work, I’ve seen it,” he said.

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