Water meter replacement under way

Program kicked off Dec. 4 in south end of city

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published December 11, 2012

After almost a year of debate, the water meter replacement program has kicked off in the city, beginning with about 780 homes on the southern border.

Department of Public Works Director Bryan Babcock reported Dec. 3 that four workers would begin that week installing new water meters and radio reading devices on homes where residents had already called and made an appointment. A few weeks prior to that, those residents received brochures from the department, outlining the plan and asking them to call and schedule a time for the city to make the switch.

“Twenty percent have already called to schedule an appointment with limited questions,” Babcock said. “Hopefully, most of the information that people want is in that brochure.”

He said installers would work Tuesdays through Saturdays, from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., to try to make the switch as convenient as possible for homeowners. A hotline will also be open during those hours for residents to call with questions. The number is (586) 447-3305.

Babcock said as the installers proceed north into the city, each upcoming section will be mailed a brochure about two weeks prior to the installers being in the area. If residents don’t call to make an appointment, a green door-tag will be left at their home, asking them to call for an appointment. A week later, if there is no appointment made, another green tag will be left, and a red tag will be left three days after that, if the department still does not hear from the resident.

Only after all those notices fail, accompanied by follow-up letters in the mail, would the city impose the warning fee on the residents’ bill to get their attention so they call for an appointment.

“We really want to try to be proactive and get an appointment scheduled that’s convenient to the homeowners,” Babcock said.

For those who leave town during the winter, Babcock said the notices would also come in the mail — which would presumably be forwarded or collected — and those residents can alert the city that they will be out of town so their installation can be scheduled for a later date.

Those who do not want a radio reading device installed in their home can also opt out of the program, but will still need a new meter installed with an outdoor, puck-style, reading device; an appointment will still need to be scheduled. The opt-out program costs $10 per quarter because a meter reader will have to come individually each quarter to the home, instead of the data being sent electronically by the radio reading device.

The radio reading devices are not smart meters that use a lot of power, Babcock said, but they are battery-powered devices that transmit once a day for a short period of time and will not need a new battery for about 15 years.

Babcock said residents should clear the area around their water meter and check that the shutoff valves surrounding it are working before making an appointment.

“If there is a problem, I recommend you call a plumber and just call us and let us know, ‘I need a week or two.’ It should not be too costly,” he said.

The installers are all city employees with identification who have been through background checks and are wearing embroidered uniforms and driving city vans.

Those who have already had a new meter installed in the past few years should not receive a brochure or a call, Babcock said.

“We know the houses that already have these,” he said.

And Acting City Manager Mike Smith said they would work with homeowners who may discover a large mismatch between the water they have actually used and the bill they have been receiving when the meter is changed.

“If we get mismatched reads,” he said, “we are going to establish criteria based on how many units the mismatches are (and) give those folks a payment plan.”

He said those with extremely large mismatches, such as a 200-unit difference, will be given the option to repay it throughout a couple years. Those large discrepancies will also be prorated to incorporate lower water rates in past years.

“If there are extreme cases, we will make adjustments,” he said.