City opts for coin-operated meters to cut costs

Paying your water-meter bill will become a lot easier - and very possibly cheaper - under a new plan expected to get approval from City council next week.

A report from City utilities director David Duckworth recommends the installation of prepaid water-meter devices as part of the City's program to meter every building in the City. Council voted 7-2 a couple of weeks ago in favour of universal water metering.

All residents will now be billed based on how much water they consume, rather than on a flat rate. However, reading the meters every month has always been seen as a challenge, said Duckworth

Rather than putting in expensive radio-frequency devices that allow remote reading of meters, the report recommends going to a prepaid system.

"Several countries have prepaid systems," Duckworth told The Daily News. "Instead of being billed each month, consumers simply prepay for their water with a coin-operated meter.

"At about $150 a pop, they're relatively inexpensive. We could probably cut the $14 million it would cost for traditional meters and remoter readers to less than half, and that would be reflected in the rates."

He said there will be additional savings in billing costs, since homeowners will pay directly for what they use, meaning it's unnecessary to read the meter.

"But we'll need 20 to 25 new staff to collect the coins and one or two additional managers to oversee them," Duckworth said.

Mayor Peter Milobar doesn't expect there will be any problem getting prepaid devices approved. "We're trying to address people's concerns around an easier system than a water meter," he said.

The City is even offering an option whereby residents can attach smaller coin-op meters to their water taps. This is particularly helpful in homes where children leave water running or where there are secondary suites with tenants who don't conserve.

The meters will release five litres of water at a time, at a cost of five cents.

"We feel a nickel is fair, given the price of a bottle of water in a grocery store," Milobar said.

Meters will have to be fed two or three times to have a full shower, but that will ensure residents wash faster and save money, Duckworth said.

Flushing toilets will also require 10 to 15 cents, unless it's a newer low-flow model.

Instead of taking nickels, the new meters will require special coins that can be purchased at City Hall or other municipal facilities.

Coins are to be sold on Wednesdays from noon to 1:30 p.m.

Each coin is valued at five cents and features a picture of the current council members who voted for meters: Mayor Peter Milobar and councillors John O'Fee, Tina Lange, Marg Spina, Nancy Bepple, John DeCicco and Jim Harker.

In the spirit of conservation, Milobar said he's asking for his left side to be featured on the coin.

The two councilors who opposed meters, Pat Wallace and Denis Walsh, are on the back of the coin.

"We'll also offer collector series coins," Duckworth added.

"We'll look at a gold series for 100 bucks as well."

The expected surplus resulting from lower installation costs will go to buy carbon offsets for the City, especially for the greenhouse gasses produced by the mayor's big truck.

Prepaid water metering is used extensively in developing countries, and is common in China. Milobar said he and council are planning a special trip to Changping, the City's partner City in China, to study how the meters are being used there.

He expects the coin-operated water system to be on stream by next April 1.

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