NEWPORT CITY – For the past several years, the Newport City Council has been trying to determine the most equable way to bill residential taxpayers for their water and sewer rates.
Currently, newer single homes, including 100 or so whose owners agreed to be sources of data, and many multi-unit apartment buildings, have already used meters.
After looking at the data collected over the past several months, the city council has determined that the fairest billing method is for all properties to have usage meters. The money collected will cover the city’s expense for providing water.
The council would like to use reserved funds to pay for the installation of the meters. A living unit fee, charged to the property owner, would help replenish the reserve fund.
In November, city voters will have their say in the matter. In preparation for that vote, the first of three public hearings took place at the Municipal Building Monday evening.
Joseph Duncan, senior engineer from Aldrich and Elliott of Essex Junction, told the 100 or so people who attended the hearing that the new rate structure, which becomes affective Nov. 1, is primarily for multi-family homes that currently have usage meters as well as commercial and industrial properties. The intent is for single family homes to be put under a meter structure. As it is now, owners of single-family homes pay a fixed rate, which has positive and negative sides.
“If you’re someone who uses a boat load of water, you pay one lump sum,” Duncan said. There is also a downside. It promotes the ability to use as much water as you want and someone who uses less water pays the same amount.
If approved, the city will own and maintain the meters.
Several property owners are upset that the proposal is for one meter per building instead of having a meter for each living unit like the electric company does. Alderman Tim de la Bruere, who works as an electrician, explained that a water meter for each living unit would require extensive repiping inside the buildings.
“When you go into a house, there is no guarantee that your water pipes go to just one unit,” he said.
Some of the property owners are upset they will be charged a meter fee. The charge, according to City Manager John Ward Jr., is to cover the replacement cost.
“When meters get old, they don’t read correctly,” said Ward. The life expediency of a water meter is about 20 years.
If approved, the meters will use wireless technology and will eliminate the need to enter the property to gather the usage information. But this concerns Tom Livermore, who said such wireless systems in other parts of the country have cause adverse medical problems. He also expressed concerns about privacy, like the city knowing when a user is using a water system.
Mayor Paul Monette, who tried to ease Livermore’s concerns, said the city will not have a way to transmit to the meters and the city will not control the amount of water a resident uses. He also said the city could not remotely turn the water off.
Monette said the city will read usage over a three-month period and will not know the peaks and valleys.
The information collected by the receiver will go into a database that will generate the bill, Duncan said.
Having a meter can also allow the city to know if a user has a leak, Ward said.