Girard should hire consultant to evaluate water meter plan

The battle between Girard Mayor James Melfi and city council over the installation of remote water meters centers on money.

The mayor doesn’t believe the city should make a million-dollar-plus investment when it has been only five months since Girard emerged from a decade of state-declared fiscal emergency.

Members of council, on the other hand, are of the opinion that the new water meters will pay for themselves. The chairman of the utilities committee, Councilman-at-large Lou Adovasio, contends that Girard can finance the $1.5 million cost now and defer payment for three years. That’s when the city will pay off the $4.9 loan it secured from the state to buy Girard Lakes. Mayor Melfi inherited the huge debt and must live with the ill-advised decision by a previous administration and council to take ownership the lakes. The promise of riches never materialized.

But since money is at the heart of the water-meter fight, we suggest that the city hire a municipal utilities consultant to determine how much money Girard is now losing because water meters located inside residences aren’t easily accessible to be read by city workers.

When a reading isn’t conducted, the home-owner is expected to provide the city with the information. If there is a two-month lag, the city estimates the bill based on previous usage.

Under the new system, remote water meters would allow city workers to conduct readings on a laptop computer without entering the residence.

It would make sense that if the city were able to read meters on the regular basis, it would generate revenue that it may not be collecting now. However, before investing $1.5 million, the mayor and council need to have a firm basis on which to make a decision.

City Auditor Sam Zirafi was right in persuading council Monday night to postpone a vote on hiring Cincinnati-based Neptune Equipment Co., which submitted the low bid on the new meter-reading system.

Zirafi said the city should establish the timeframes for financing and installation.

Once the information is compiled it will be presented to council which is expected to take up the issue at its next meeting.

Melfi expects lawmakers to approve legislation authorizing the board of control, made up of the mayor and law and finance directors, to enter into an agreement with Neptune.

He has indicated that he will veto the legislation, thus challenging council to override the veto.

Fiscal oversight commission

The battle between the executive and legislative branches is good for a city that has had to live under the state’s thumb for a decade. Once fiscal emergency was declared, a state-mandated fiscal oversight commission took charge.

It was tough going, but with the commission’s guidance and the mayor’s no-nonsense approach to eliminating the red ink Girard is now boasting a budget surplus.

But, with the national economy still struggling to find its footing, and with state government slashing the local government fund, any capital investment must be made cautiously.

We are leaning toward the mayor’s position that the city should pay off the debt on the Girard Lakes before it gets involved in another project.

But, we could change our position if the consultant says that the installation of the remote water meters will be a financial boon for the city of Girard.

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