MAHOPAC, N.Y. - A plan to replace traditional-style water meters in the town of Carmel’s water districts with ones that use radio frequencies to broadcast information back to a computerized information collection center has been given the green light by the Town Board.
After a June 28 public hearing on the proposal, the board unanimously approved a $3,350,000 bond for the automatic meter infrastructure upgrade with a maximum borrowing period of 40 years.
The bond payments will be split among the town’s 13 water districts based on the number of customers per district. Water District 2, which is the hamlet of Carmel, has the highest apportionment—54 percent—and is responsible for $1.8 million of the bond.
Back when the idea was first proposed in February, Supervisor Ken Schmitt said the town had been discussing the project for about four years.
“Once these are installed the homeowner won’t be responsible [for filing their own meter readings],” Schmitt said then. “Right now, a majority of homeowners are not reading their meters. So, we are issuing estimated water bills and, in a lot of cases, they are wrong. So, with these new radio-read water meters, the signal will be sent right to a data terminal and the information is read right off that. We are actually going into the 21st century as far as water meters are concerned.”
Mahopac resident Michael Preziosi spoke at the June public hearing, asking the board if the plan to installed the new meters was a “knee-jerk reaction to capture unaccounted for revenue in the water districts.”
“It’s actually the opposite,” Councilman Frank Lombardi responded. “It’s to help homeowners. A lot of people at the time of [the sale of their homes] didn’t capture all those years of water usage and then all of a sudden, they get a water bill when they are about to close on their house for three, four, five thousand dollars. And then they are like, ‘Wow!’ So instead of the bulk payment all at one time, each year they will pay [exactly] what they’ve used.”
Preziosi wondered if some of the smaller water districts could use available funds in the budget to pay off their shares of the bond.
“Some of these community wells are servicing less than 150 homes,” he said. “Has there been any evaluation of potentially using any fund balance for some of the smaller districts so we don’t have to bond. I don’t know if there is revenue in each of the districts; my district per se is only 119 homes. Is there enough in the fund reserves to pay for this without having to bond?”
Town comptroller Mary Ann Maxwell said that the entire project must be bonded, but then each district could use fund balance money to pay off its share.
“Once it got bonded, we would look at the fund balance in each district and pay off that particular part of the bond faster than another district that couldn’t afford it,” she said. “A healthier district could pay it back faster.”
Preziosi also asked if the new meters were really necessary for the smaller water districts.
“To me, if the water meter is working and the fees are being collected, is putting in an automatic meter really benefitting these smaller community wells?” he said.
Schmitt reiterated that the new type of meter would mean more accurate bookkeeping and billing no matter the size of the water district.
“Part of the problem has been there is a good percentage of people who are not reading their meters [and sending back the card] so they are getting an estimated bill,” he explained. “The comptroller’s office sends out a card and some fill it out and are billed accurately for the amount of water that they use during that period, but others don’t. So, this will make it more efficient for both the town and [the homeowner].”
Councilwoman Suzy McDonough who, along with Councilman John Lupinacci, spearheaded the idea for the new meters, said the new technology can help people keep their bills lower and even detect fraud.
“It can help you detect if you have a leak,” she said. “You can look at your water usage online and if you see it’s higher than usual [you may realize you have a leak.]”
McDonough said that one time a Mahopac family went on vacation and while they were gone their neighbor tapped into their water spigot to fill their pool. She said the new meters will uncover such excessive use and reveal the fraud.
“You can get an alert on your phone if something is happening,” she said.
Town engineer Rich Franzetti said that now that the bond has been passed there will be a waiting period. After the waiting period is over, he will reveal the specs for new meters and the project will go out to bid. The bids will then be vetted and a vendor will be chosen. He estimated that the project will roll out sometime in early 2018.