By danny restivo
A group of residents is seeking a voter referendum on the city’s installation of new water meters.
Ralph B. Chuey, of Prospect Street, filed for a petition with the Trumbull County Board of Elections on Tuesday. Chuey is hoping to gather a minimum of 345 signatures to refer the water- meter issue to the voters.
He believes residents will shoulder the $1.5 million investment otherwise.
“These meters are going to put a burden on the taxpayer,” said Chuey. “Something of this magnitude should include the people’s say.”
On Jan. 2, council voted 6-1 to install $1.5 million worth of remote radio-frequency water meters throughout the city, after Mayor Jim Melfi vetoed legislation approved Dec. 11 by a 5-1 vote.
Council needed 5 of 7 votes to override the mayor’s veto.
Melfi cited the city’s release from fiscal oversight in June. He pointed to the $242,000 a year the city must pay for Girard Lakes. Girard purchased the lakes in 1995 and will have doled out $4.9 million by the time they are paid off in 2015.
Melfi, who was elected five years after the lakes’ purchase, believes the money going toward the lakes can be redirected toward the water-meter project then.
Stephanie Penrose, tabulation administrator at the Trumbull county board of elections, said the petition must include 345 signatures of registered voters, or 10 percent of the Girard residents who voted in the last governor’s race.
She said the city auditor must validate the petition’s signatures before they are reviewed by the board of elections.
She said the petition must have the required signatures by Feb. 6 for the item to be placed on the May ballot.
Chuey believes he can attract 400 signatures. He already has pledged signatures from Melfi and Councilman Larry Steiner, D-2nd, council’s only dissenting vote.
Councilmen supporting the legislation believe the meters will create more revenue for the city by recording more accurate readings.
Currently, the city’s residential water meters are inside homes and the water department relies on the homeowner to provide a reading that is either mailed in or called in.
The new meters can send a radio-frequency signal to a laptop that records the meter readings while the city employees drive through a neighborhood.
Melfi said he is confident the meters will be overturned if the voters decide.
“I have yet to find one person who disagrees with me,” he said. “I have not yet had one person say I was wrong.”
Chuey is hoping to enlist the help of other supporters to carry out the drive for signatures.
He said they will set up at various locations throughout the city to obtain them.