Red Hook Village to mete out fines for water meter holdouts

Water customers in the village of Red Hook who have not yet had new meters installed will soon be penalized for their inaction, it appears.

The Village board at its July 2 meeting set a deadline of July 26 for getting the final 10 percent of the outdated meters replaced, after which residential customers will face a $50 fine and commercial customers double that each quarter.

The meters are being installed free of charge to all 830 customers as part of Phase 1 of the Village’s water system improvement plan. According to village estimates, close to 80 still need to be replaced and all of those customers have been contacted four times for scheduling the installation. In addition, the water meter installers have gone door to door when they happen to be in the area installing neighbors’ meters.

As the rest of Phase 1 — which has also included well field improvements, new monitoring systems and a new back-up generator for the wells — nears completion, officials are hoping to encourage the last 10 percent of customers to comply.

“We need to get them onboard,” Mayor Ed Blundell said at the meeting, “We know their names, we know their addresses.”

Once the July 26 deadline passes, the letter said, residents will be levied a $50 fine each quarter “to pay the increased costs of manual reading and bill computation in two programs.” Commercial customers, estimated to make up 20 percent of those who have not complied, will be fined $100.

In addition, the letter warned that waiting until after deadline will mean that customers must hire their own plumber to install the meter, which officials estimated could cost between $200-$400.

The fines are designed to not only encourage compliance but also cover the administrative costs of maintaining the old system for a few customers while the rest of the village transitions to the new system.

In the past, the village employed two people to read the meters each quarter, which officials said was costly and could sometimes result in errors.

“Without faulting any one person, but there was a history when reading the analog meters of reversing the numbers, and then some meters just weren’t functional. There was all kinds room for error. Now we can do it with far less time, far less expense, and do it right,” Blundell said at the meeting.

Blundell noted that earlier that day the meter reader had done his usual circuit, but had done it in under four hours, a record. “The new meters…will provide us the accuracy we all need, a conversion to gallons consumed versus cubic feet, and an easier meter reading and billing process that will reduce internal costs,” according to the letter that is being sent to recalcitrant customers.

Blundell said there were apparently a variety of reasons for why residents had not scheduled the change-overs . “Some, when we talk to them, tell us they just forgot. Some have an objection to it for various reasons. But it’s really something we need them to comply with,” Blundell said.

Blundell noted that the village board attorney had recommended that officials exercise their legal right to shut off the water to homes or businesses that do not comply. “I’m not going to do that,” he added. “I think pocketbook is a better means of compliance. To me, shutting off is not healthy, it’s not safe, it’s not nice.”

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