The City of Trinidad’s new plan to adopt Advanced Metering Infrastructure radio transmission to read public and private utility meters has stirred some local controversy, with some customers not wanting the new meter-reading technology at their homes or businesses. Trinidad’s City Council unanimously approved a metering opt-out provision for utility customers at its Tuesday, July 2 regular meeting at City Hall.
City Utilities Superintendent Mike Valentine explained the new opt-out provision that includes an application form, after several utility customers requested it, and the provision was discussed at length at a recent council work session. “Basically, the person must be the property owner or have approval from the owner to do the opt-out,” Valentine said. “We either already have installed or will install new utility meters in every home, so if they opt out now there won’t be an initial fee but, if they in the future decide to opt out, I’ve done some analysis on what it costs for a new meter or to reconfigure the meter so it doesn’t have this new metering technology in it.”
Valentine said that averaging the cost of three new utility meters for gas, water and electric service, with the needed certifications and other costs, the cost of replacing a single utility meter would be $175. “We did an investment grade audit of all of our meters and our billing system and found out that the City was losing money,” he said. “So what we’re doing is, with these automated meters, we’re not eliminating the jobs of any meter readers, we’re absorbing those employees into other departments, so they can help with other activities in whatever department they go to. So if someone opts out, we have to call that meter tech and take them away from their job to go read that meter, and take that meter reading down to our Utility Billing Department. Billing‘s going to have to manually key everything into the system to make sure it’s keying into our system so it gets billed correctly.
“So I figured the meter readers average plus benefits for a half-hour for all departments and came up with an average of $62. That being said, in this resolution there’s a one-time fee for the removal of the meter of $175 per meter, a monthly fee for manual read of the meters of $65 per month combined for all three meters. If for any reason they have to back a second time and read the meter there will be a $32 fee for reading that meter a second time. If they don’t pay those fees and we have to go back more than two times, we have to assume they don’t want to be in the opt-out program and we’ll put a new meter back in, so that we can get the read accurately.”
Valentine noted that utility meters were the city’s “cash cow” and in a city who’s infrastructure was failing, if meters could not be read accurately and the proper fees collected from customers, the city’s infrastructure would continue its long, slow decline.
Council member Karen Griego talked about the new meter reading program and its costs. “Thank you for doing that. These are true expenses,” Griego said. “They’re not punitive, but it’s costing the city money to put that manpower out on the street.”
Council member Anthony Mattie told Valentine his presentation was “carefully thought out, reasonable and articulate,” and he thanked Valentine for his input.
None of the council members voiced any strong opposition to the opt-out proposal, and the resolution was passed unanimously.