October 22, 2014

Standish water billing schedule expected to change

By Kevin Bunch
Staff Writer | news@arenacindependent.com
Posted

STANDISH — The Standish City Council came a step closer changing the city’s water billing cycle from quarterly to monthly after it held a public hearing on the matter Feb. 20.

The city council is expected to approve the new billing cycle at its next meeting, on Monday, March 19. According to Standish Mayor Mark Winslow, the city’s reasons for implementing the change come down to catching billing problems sooner.

“It will streamline the city’s efforts to get a handle on water billing,” Winslow said. “Hopefully it should work out better for members of the community as well.”

City Manager Curt Hillman explained Feb. 20 that a problem with a water bill — such as a water leak or a delinquent bill — can take the city up to six months, or two billing cycles, to catch.

By that time, a water bill can climb upward of $1,000, an amount Hillman acknowledged most people would balk at paying all at once. It could also take that long for the city to shut off water to properties with delinquent bills.

“If you go to a monthly billing, we’re into it only two months,” Hillman said.

Winslow said initially the city would still measure the meters quarterly, and estimate the bills for the first two months per billing cycle. A resident would still be paying the same basic amount, but it would be split into smaller bills.

Hillman said the city is looking at July for the first monthly bill. He said officials still had to flesh out the logistics and implementation of the new billing cycle.

Winslow said city officials are still looking into replacing the water meters throughout the city with a new system with meters readable from the road using a handheld device.

During a city council meeting in November, Hillman said such a change would allow workers to read all of the meters in the city in half a day, and facilitate a more accurate monthly billing schedule.

No decision has yet been made on water meter upgrades, but since parts for the current meter-reading equipment are no longer produced, the city would need to upgrade.

Winslow said the city would absorb the cost of new water meter equipment when it goes forward with the upgrades.

Hillman said the upgrades would have to be made piecemeal throughout the city, as the full cost of upgrading just the meter heads would be approximately $150,000. In contrast, installing new, remote meters throughout the city readable from a computer in city hall would cost around $350,000, which he said is not economically viable.

Hillman added the city is pursuing low-interest loans to try and get all of the meter upgrades completed at once, but barring that, he hoped to have money budgeted for the first wave of meters for the city’s next fiscal year, which begins in July.

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