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Schedule a smart water meter installation to avoid penalties, city says

There have been some cancelled appointments for water meter installations due to staff shortages, but the city is assuring residents that only those who actively refuse water meters will receive a $50 monthly fee for water meter readings — and a potential service disconnection

As penalties loom for those who refuse to have smart water meters installed, the city is clarifying that there will be plenty of opportunities for people to comply before it reaches that point.

“If citizens just call and say they’re willing to move forward with the process, let’s map that out and see what it looks like and then we don’t have to worry about this terrible situation of turning off your water,” city director of water/wastewater Mike Jensen explained to Sudbury.com. 

Those who haven’t been contacted don’t need to worry yet, as crews are currently undertaking the installations on a ward-by-ward basis, beginning with Wards 10, 12, 1 and 11. 

Service disconnection is the last resort for those who refuse the new smart water meter technology, and follow the implementation of a $50 monthly fee to help cover the administrative burden of continuing to read water meters manually instead of online via the new meters, which transmit data online in a near real-time basis to both the city and customer.

One hiccup in the installation process that readers brought to the attention of Sudbury.com has to do with appointments being cancelled by KTI Utility Services, the contractor hired to install the new technology. This has led some people to worry about whether they’d be considered by the city as non-compliant and face consequences as a result.

“Regrettably, there has been some confusion and cancelled appointments as a result of some shortage in staffing, however, they continue to work through those difficulties,” Jensen said.

“It’s not our intent by any means to cause that and it can be quite troubling for the citizen, and we understand that and we do apologize in advance if there are scheduling difficulties.”

Some commenters on Sudbury.com expressed concern that cancelled appointments that prevent people from having the new meters installed would lead to people being hit with the $50 fee — that’s not the case, the city told us. Only those who actively refuse or avoid having smart water meters installed will face a $50 monthly fee, which Jensen described as a temporary solution. 

“We don’t expect that process to carry on forever,” Jensen added. “Eventually what we’ll do is move into a disconnect process.”

Similarly to those who decline to pay their water bill, he said the city can cut water service to those who refuse to allow contractors to install new smart meter technology.

The city is currently hashing out timelines for both of these scenarios and plans on releasing a public education component in the coming weeks.

At the latest update last month, approximately 1,275 property owners have issued “soft refusals,” which Jensen clarified this week is primarily a result of scheduling difficulties and that some people have postponed installs due to COVID-related concerns.

Approximately 10 people have issued hard refusals by indicating that they would never allow smart meter technology to be installed.

“You’ll always have these hard refusals,” Jensen said, adding that Greater Sudbury Utilities indicated a few years ago that they still had some holdouts from people who have continually declined new smart electric meters despite having them available for several years. 

The city undertakes several points of contact with residents before any consequences for refusing a smart meter are considered.

The first point of contact is an introductory letter from the city, which joins local media coverage and social media posts in letting people know what the new devices are all about, and points them to the city’s website for more information.

An appointment booklet from KTI Utility Services arrives at the resident’s home after the letter and includes additional information about booking an appointment. This is followed by a reminder notice, a door knocker flyer, a phone call from the contractor and a final written notice. 

Additional points of contact follow before any action is taken, Jensen said, adding that the new devices should be an easy sell to residents without having to use negative reinforcement. 

“We’re seeing a lot of very good news stories already,” he said. “There’s so much information coming in, we’re in the process of ensuring we have data analysts reviewing information on a daily or weekly basis so we don’t miss out on an opportunity to let a customer know that they may have a leak in their plumbing.”

Sudden spikes in water consumption can point to a burst pipe or hot water heater problem, Jensen said, clarifying that residents and the city alike will be able to monitor water use, which will be a “huge customer relations tool.”

It typically takes between 30 to 90 minutes for contractors to install smart water meter technology in someone’s home. On the short end of the scale are instances where the existing water meter is less than 10 years old, in which case it remains in place and is hooked up to a new transmitter/receiver on the side of the house to transmit data. 

On the longer end of the scale are instances where the water meter is more than 10 years old, in a messy environment, inconvenient location and lacks the necessary water shut-off valves, or the valves are not working. In these cases, the contractor has to freeze the water pipe to plug the flow of water before installing the necessary valves and new water meter.

Despite staffing issues, Jensen said that the contractor hasn’t indicated that their timeline has changed from installing the full collection of 48,400 smart water meters by the end of the year.

According to current job advertisements for KTI Utility Services in Greater Sudbury, local jobs pay between $18 and $35 per hour. Canvassers, who distribute door knocker flyers and communicate with customers, earn $18 per hour, water meter installers earn $20 per hour and plumbers earn between $30 to $30 per hour.

To schedule a smart meter installation, KTI Utility Services can be contacted at 1-833-543-8807 Monday to Friday from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. and on Saturdays from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. 

Tyler Clarke covers city hall and political affairs for Sudbury.com.