Des Plaines may update water meters, resulting in rate hike

Updated 1/19/2011 12:02 AM

Des Plaines residents may see a rise in water rates starting next year if officials decide to eventually replace the city's roughly 13,000 analog water meters with a new digital automated meter reading system.

The city council Tuesday night discussed whether to grant a contract to Badger Meter, Inc., of Milwaukee to replace some aging meters and purchase new ones for newly constructed buildings for $65,000, as well as implement an automated meter reading system at an initial cost of $65,000. Badger is the city's current meter provider.


The current meters in residents' basements are connected by cable to outside meters. The meter readings sometimes don't match up because outside weather conditions can slow down the equipment, said Tim Oakley, director of public works and engineering.

Officials don't know how many such meters are malfunctioning.

Oakley said analog meters are no longer being manufactured so the city must switch to a digital signal.

It would cost the city roughly $7 million to automate its 13,000 meters, which would have to be done over several years and would be funded through water and sewer funds, Oakley said.

"We would have to raise rates in order to do this project," Oakley said.

City officials are conducting a water rate study, taking into account other needed improvements to the water system in the short and longer term. The results of that study will be available soon, however, no rate increases would be implemented until at least next year, Oakley said.

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Once implemented, the system would provide city staff the ability to read water meters wirelessly throughout the city. The technology would considerably reduce the amount of time staff spends reading meters and streamline the city's utility billing. It would also eliminate the need for manual meter reading, which currently costs the city $60,000 yearly by contract, officials said.

City officials propose installing the citywide wireless network this year to test out the program.

However, some aldermen objected to granting Badger an exclusive contract without competitive bidding.

Fifth Ward Alderman James Brookman said he would like the matter to be referred back to the public works committee for further discussion.

"I don't think a month should make any difference," Brookman said. "This is a big expense for all of us."

Oakley said city staff has researched other water meter vendors and the problem is that the city would have to replace the entire meter if it went with another vendor, whereas Badger could equip existing meters with the automated meter reading technology.

Yet, the rest of the council agreed with Brookman and referred the matter back to committee.

"Let's explore the options," Mayor Marty Moylan said. "There may be a company that can adapt to the situation less expensively."