Township approves monthly water meter billing
By Kevin Elliott
Water customers in Bloomfield Township will be receiving monthly water bills in upcoming years under a water meter replacement and upgrade program unanimously approved by the township’s board of trustees on Monday, September 12.
The multi-year replacement program is part of an effort for the township to attain more accurate water usage information which can be shared with customers, make a move to monthly billing in the future, and meet state law that requires the removal of any lead service lines owned by the township, said Bloomfield Township Public Works Director Noah Mehalski.
“There is a service line at the end of the stop box that feeds water into people’s homes, and in this state because of the weather, the meters are inside,” Mehalski said. “The meter then talks to a sender unit to get meter readings. Right now, we are on a radio-read environment, in which we can drive by on the street and collect the readings. We want to move toward a monthly billing and usage-based billing, and we want to move to getting more robust data through the use of a cellular network and having a cellular endpoint, rather than a radio read.
“Additionally, this involves state regulations to get into the home and do a test on the service line material coming into the home. We would have to do it anyway, so we are coupling these together. The hardest part will be getting into homes, so if we can do that one time and satisfy multiple regulations, that’s how we are going to do the program.”
Mehalski said nearly half of water customers in the township won’t need full meter replacements, instead requiring only an updated cellular “endpoint,” on the outside of the home, which will send water usage data via a cellular connection in real time. That information would be available to customers in real time through a customer portal. The data would then be used to develop a monthly billing program based on precise usage data. Meanwhile, the contractor conducting the work will be able to check service lines in homes with older meters to meet new lead safety standards.
“So, if someone got a meter two years ago, we don’t need to change the meter, just the endpoint,” Bloomfield Township trustee Michael Schostak confirmed.
Schostak said more accurate data will help detect leaks in the system, noting that a water leak at his own home ended up costing him about $2,000 before it was detected.
Mehalski said residents who require meter replacements wouldn’t be charged directly for the change.
“This funding is included as part of the rate of any given year, and the $300,000 for this year is already included in this year’s rates,” he said. “Indirectly, the rate payers are paying for it.”
Trustees unanimously approved a contract with SLC Meter to conduct the work in an amount “not to exceed $300,000 for the 2022-23 fiscal year.”
Mehalski said the total cost of the program will be spread over several years. The cost to replace all meters in one year was estimated at nearly $7.9 million. However, he said that estimate doesn’t contain the actual number of meter replacements, endpoint updates and related work, rather the cost to replace all meters.
“That’s why it’s a ‘not to exceed’ price in the first year,” he said. “In following years, we will have usage rates and know a budget amount.”
Some township residents attending the board meeting expressed concern during the public comment period, prior to the matter being discussed.
“My comment is about the new meters – $8 million, and that excludes that cost of the meters. How are we going to pay for that? I don’t want higher rates,” said Bloomfield Township resident Mark Antakii.
Mehalski later said replacements would start with high-end water users and commercial customers in the first few years and collect water usage during that time to develop accurate usage readings that could be used for determining rates. Usage data and progress made each year will then determine how long the entire project will take, as well as overall cost.
“We bid this out by unit cost, and then we extrapolated that over the multi-year program for 18,000 meters,” he said. “If we chose to do this in one year, the big number is about $7.9 million. We have to parcel this out year-to-year. There are many reasons why: a $7-8 million hit to the budget isn’t prudent planning; you don’t want to replace meters that don’t need it, so you want to do this over several years.”