By JOHN T. WARD
A plan for a wholesale modernization of Red Bank’s water-metering technology is back, as promised, after getting tabled late last year.
A $2.2 million bond to pay for the replacement of every water meter in town is slated for introduction next week.
Though a vendor has not yet been selected, pending a bid process that will follow the bond authorization, the new devices will replace all 3,800-plus meters installed in homes and businesses, including many that are old and in some cases failing, Menna Administration officials said last week.
While the American Water Works Association recommends replacing meters every 15 years, “a lot of our meters are over 25 years old,” said borough Administrator Stanley Sickels. According to Councilman Ed Zipprich, about 69 percent of the town’s meters are more than 10 years old.
The existing meters are longer manufactured, said borough officials, and the town’s supply of replacements is down to just 14, officials said.
Sickels said the state Department of Environmental Protection requires that utilities replace meters when the value of water delivered exceeds water revenue by 15 percent or more. The borough’s shortfall has been certified at that threshold, he said.
Councilwoman Linda Schwabenbauer said that translates to a shortfall of at least $1.5 million a year, and perhaps as much as $2.5 million. And the current system of hand-entries of meter readings into a billing system is “worse than antique,” she said.
The replacements would be radio-equipped, meaning they can be read from a vehicle driving past, with the usage data downloaded into software rather than entered by hand, as readings still are today, said .
They can even tell when the water is running, which may strike some as a bit of Big Brother, said Sickels.
The new meters and their installation would be paid for from the bond, with “no increase in taxes or water rates because of this,” Sickels said. An anticipated 10-percent increase in collections would cover the debt service on a 15-year bond, he said.
Councilwoman Cindy Burnham repeated a request she made last year for comprehensive operational study of the borough-owned water utility before a decision on meters is reached. Sickels argued that accurate data from better metering technology was needed to make any such study meaningful.
Burnham also asked that residents be given the option of obtaining a second meter used to measure usage in watering lawns and refilling swimming pools without being hit with the commensurate charge for sewer use, which is calculated at 125 percent of water billings. Atlantic Highlands allows such an option, at a cost of $200 for the additional meter, she said.
Sickels said that was under consideration.
“I’d like to see us give some of these savings back to the residents in the form of lower rates,” Schwabenbauer said.
Councilman Mike DuPont replied that he didn’t “think anyone would not consider that. But i just think that we need to verify that we’re losing $2.5 million a year.”
In December, Menna administration officials posted a FAQ in December laying out their rationale for the meter replacement program.
The bond introduction is expected at the semimonthly meeting of the council on Wednesday, May 27. The governing body meets at 6:30 p.m. at 90 Monmouth Street.