Portland council takes on water-meter program

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PORTLAND — After a unanimous vote by the City Council Monday night, the city will take on authority for a program that helps Portland residents save money on the fees they pay for discharged waste water.

The council voted 9-0 to approve a change in the city code that shifts responsibilities for “submetering” from the Portland Water District to the city’s Department of Public Services.

In January, the city amended an agreement with the district, a quasi-public agency providing water services to Portland and 10 surrounding communities, in order to administer the submetering program. The program allows residents to track – and avoid paying sewer fees for – water they use but that doesn’t enter the sewer system, such as water used to irrigate lawns.

Monday’s vote enables the city to manage the process of installing and inspecting the water-flow meters residents need to participate in the program.

Under the new arrangement, residents will purchase the meters from the city and then contact DPS to have them inspected and certified by a licensed plumber. Meter costs will depend on their size and type, but will start at about $343, DPS Director Mike Bobinsky said.

The charges and inspection requirements do not apply to meters that are currently used by participants in the program.

But some councilors and residents balked at the price and the complexity of the process.

“Why does the city think it can do a better job of this than the Portland Water District?” asked High Street resident Steven Sharf.

Councilor Ed Suslovic probed further, asking questions about the paper-bound application process and how the city will administer installations and inspections.

“I’m trying to see if we can streamline this,” he said. “It seems more complicated than it has to be.”

But City Manager Mark Rees told the council that the potential cost savings made taking on responsibility for submetering in the best interest of the city and its residents.

“It’s in our interest, moreso than the Portland Water District’s, to make sure the meters are installed and operating correctly,” he said.

The council passed the amendment after a first making a procedural change that tabled a proposal to increase charges imposed on residents who are near, but do not use, the city’s sewer system. The proposal was referred to the council’s Finance Committee for further review.

In other business, the council recognized staff and students of Portland’s King Middle School for being profiled in a national television news program, “The PBS Newshour,” on Jan. 30. The program featured the school in a segment about “deep learning,” a hands-on, real-world teaching approach that emphasizes the importance of student improvement over intelligence.

William Hall can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter: @hallwilliam4.