NEWPORT CITY – To meter or not to meter? That is the question. In November, Newport City voters will have a chance to answer that question. On Monday night, the Newport City Council held the third and final required public hearing regarding the topic.
A public vote will likely be held early in November.
Some tenants who live in Newport City recently received a letter dated Sept. 23, 2011 asking them to register to vote. The letter, provided by Express sources, is unsigned and says it is "to all renters in Newport from landlords."
The letter states: "The City of Newport has developed a water ordinance which, unless it is revoked, will necessarily increase rents in the city by a minimum of $20 per month. To combat these rising costs, the City of Newport needs to approve the installation of water meters and establish a fair rate of charging for water usage. Voting on the matter of installing meters in all buildings will take place either November 1st or November 8th.
"If you are not a registered voter in Newport, you should register at once so that you can be part of this important decision making process. The deadline to become registered to vote is the Wednesday prior to voting...."
The letter goes on to instruct the tenants on how, where and when to register to vote, then states: "VOTE 'YES' FOR WATER METERS!"
For the past several years the council has been trying to decide the fairest way to charge for water and sewer. Currently many owners of apartment buildings, commercial buildings and industrial buildings pay for what they use.
Starting Nov. 1, they will also pay a per unit charge.
Some single-family homes currently have a water meter, which the city is using for data collection purposes. Owners of properties that do not have water meters pay a fixed cost for water and sewer. The council feels installing water meters on every property will make establishing water assessments an even playing field for everyone.
Installing water meters will make everyone accountable for the water they use, said Joseph Duncan, senior engineer from Aldrich and Elliott in Essex Junction. Water meters also alert the city when there is a water leak.
The council wants to use reserve funds to pay to install the water meters over a 10-year period. The council wants to implement a water meter charge on top of the usage charge so it can rebuild the capital investment. The money collected will be used to replace the meters, which have a 20-year life expediency.
The council has maintained the city is not able to get grant money because the water and sewer rates are too low. This, said Brian McNeal, should say something.
“If our water rates are too low, then we’re doing pretty good,” said McNeal. McNeal pointed out that non-city residents own 45 apartment buildings. The 33 remaining are owned by city residents. “I don’t understand why the council is being dictated to by people who are not residents.”
McNeal suggested that each living unit have a water meter instead of having one water meter for the entire building, which is the proposal on the table.
Mayor Paul Monette, who favors water meters, said it comes down to equity and a home that has people who conserve water should not pay the same amount as a home owner who leaves his or her sprinkler on all the time.
“It’s just like electricity,” said Monette “You a pay base rate for electricity and then you pay a base rate for what you use. The same is true with water meters. You pay a base rate and then you pay for the amount of water you’re using.”
Delivering the water to the customers costs next to nothing, said Jim Scherer. The expense, he said, is the infrastructure and meters would be an added expense.
“Once the meters are installed, you can’t take them out,” said Scherer. “You’re going to have meters forever.”
Scherer suggested the city charge residents based on the size of the service coming into their property. He also said it costs more money to deliver water on the edge of town than it does in the downtown area.
Richard Cartee, who has lived in the city for 71 years, said the meters make him feel unwanted. He also said the surplus came from the people who pay their water and sewer bills. Cartee suggested the city find out what the owners of apartment buildings feel is fair.
“The water is there,” he said. “It’s everybody’s water; you went down and took it and we paid you to go down and take it for us.”
Warren Friske, who owns apartment buildings in Newport City, said an elderly person living in an apartment uses the same amount of water as an elderly person living in his or her home and the only fair way to do that is for everyone to have a water meter.
Frank Knoll said it is unfair to have a portion of properties that are metered and others non-metered.