Norwich City Council could reconsider $2.9 million water meter upgrade

Norwich — The City Council could reconsider its Dec. 19 rejection of a $2.9 million plan to upgrade about 4,000 Norwich Public Utilities water meters throughout the city, but it would take a council rule change at its Tuesday meeting.

The council voted 4-3 on Dec. 19 in favor of the ordinance to bond $2.9 million to purchase and install the automated water meters. However, such a vote requires a 5-2 majority vote to pass, even though the bold would be funded entirely through water rate revenue rather than taxes.

Alderman Gerald Martin, who voted against the proposed ordinance, said he has since received answers from NPU staff to his many questions about the project. Martin said he wants the council to act quickly to reconsider the ordinance to allow NPU to secure a $2.9 million, 2 percent interest rate loan through the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund for the project.

NPU has been approved for the loan and would close on the financing in February if the City Council approved the bonding ordinance. Otherwise, NPU officials told the council on Dec. 19, they would have to wait about two years for another chance to secure such a loan.

The council operates under Robert's Rules of Order, and there was some question about whether the council could reconsider the ordinance under the current rules. Corporation Counsel Michael Driscoll said a resolution on Tuesday's agenda would amend the council's rules to allow it to reconsider an action at the very next meeting after it was either approved or rejected.

The council meeting to reconsider the water ordinance will be held at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at City Hall. The meeting will begin with Mayor Deberey Hinchey's annual state of the city address.

The move to reconsider the water system ordinance would have to be raised by a council member who voted against the ordinance. Martin, Alderwoman Joanne Philbrick and Alderman William Nash voted against the ordinance. Nash and Martin complained that NPU had not provided detailed information, including costs or savings and potential job loss by converting to automated meters.

NPU Assistant General Manager Chris LaRose, who addressed the council on Dec. 19, said Thursday he will attend Tuesday's meeting and answer questions.

LaRose said Thursday most of the city's water, electric and natural gas meters already have been replaced with automated meters. The 4,000 remaining manual water meters are located in more difficult positions, all of them inside buildings, LaRose said.

If the water bond ordinance is approved Tuesday, NPU would put the project out to bid and would close on the state loan in February.

Work would be done in the spring and, in most locations, also would include replacing the building's electric and natural gas meters. Electric meter replacement was funded through an earlier federal economic stimulus grant under President Barack Obama. The gas meter upgrade was funded through local bonds approved by residents in a 2015 referendum, LaRose said.

LaRose said about 4,000 electric meters and 4,600 gas meters still need to be upgraded. A majority of the buildings in need of the upgrade have all three utility services, LaRose said.

The Board of Public Utilities Commissioners last May approved a 22.7 percent water rate increase, including 10 percent that took effect in July and another 12.7 percent that will take effect on Sunday. Those rates will pay for the water meter upgrade project.

LaRose told the council Dec. 19 that the automated meters would not lead to layoffs of meter readers. Staff would be reduced through attrition, and meter readers would be assigned to other duties, including remote monitoring of the new automated meters.

c.bessette@theday.com

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