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Cost of reading some Alle-Kiski water meters to rise 600 percent

| Friday, Nov. 2, 2012, 1:22 a.m.

Information is power, and the power the New Kensington water authority holds apparently will cost five communities more money.

Up to now, the authority has charged the entities who oversee sewage services 25 cents per water-meter reading, the standard that is used in calculating quarterly sewage treatment bills.

Action taken Thursday by the water authority will increase that by 600 percent, to $1.50 per meter reading.

That is a cost that sewage authorities for New Kensington, Lower Burrell, Allegheny Township, the Kiski Valley Water Pollution Control Authority and the City of Arnold face. All either do their own billing and collection of sewer fees, or are planning to do so.

But that's barring any legal action, which has been threatened by the New Kensington sanitary authority.

The issue arose when the New Kensington sewage authority, which was paying the city's water authority $68,000 a year for doing the billing and collecting on its accounts, including the 25-cent meter reading fee, decided to have someone else handle the billing and collecting.

New Kensington sanitary authority Chairman Jack Mihok said the authority was trying to save money by going with Pennsylvania Municipal Services of Oakmont. Although he was not sure of the exact figure, Mihok said the company would be paid around $30,000 a year.

Knowing that the sanitary authority will continue to depend on its meter readings, the water authority had its general manager, Jim Matta, calculate the actual cost of doing a meter reading through its remote reading system. That figure came to $2.99 per reading. That is based on the $325,000 it costs the water authority each year to pay for the $5.7 million meter replacement project that was completed in August 2011, maintaining the meters and paying the manufacturer an annual computer maintenance fee.

Matta divided that cost by the 108,600 readings the water authority does each year, including the 55,700 it does for its own purposes.

At that price, it would cost the New Kensington sanitary authority about $64,000 for the 21,500 meter readings the water authority does each year.

“The $2.99 is in no way a penalty,” Matta said. “It is an actual cost to do the meter reading.”

Water authority Chairman Ron Zampogna said that until recently, the authority really didn't know the actual cost of a meter reading.

“The $2.99 is our cost, but to put that on all at one time might be a shock to a lot of municipalities — and we service five,” Zampogna told the board.

He suggested using $2, but the board instead agreed to charge $1.50 per meter reading.

At that price, it will cost the New Kensington sanitary authority more than $32,000 a year; Lower Burrell about $29,000; Arnold, more than $12,400; Allegheny Township, about $3,500; and the Kiski Valley authority, $950.

But the $1.50 fee was not received any better than $2.99 by Mihok.

“I don't like the way they do things over there,” Mihok said. “They have to do those readings anyway.

“Now they want to charge everyone in New Kensington an extra $1.50, and I don't think it is right.

“There is a $15 surcharge on their bills, and nobody knows what the hell it is for.”

Mihok said the authority incurred a capital expense in installing the new remote-read meters. Instead of folding that cost into the water rates with an increase, it is trying to recoup it through the sanitary authorities.

“It is their belief that we should just absorb the cost of doing those readings and just hand the data over to them,” Zampogna said.

Sanitary authority Solicitor Aaron Kress thinks the Water Services Act, a state law, supports that contention.

“There is a statue that says, A. ‘they shall provide' us the meter readings and B. the water authority and sewage authorities can enter into an agreement to do billing and collecting, and for that they are entitled to charge a ‘reasonable fee,' ” Kress said.

He said the New Ken-sington sanitary authority checked with the Westmoreland County water authority and found that it charges only 13.5 cents per meter reading.

Water authority Solicitor David Regoli believes the state law covers what the water authority is proposing.

“I think the act makes it clear that we can charge a reasonable fee,” Regoli said.

“Unless we come to some agreement, we'll have to let a judge interpret what a statute says,” Kress said, adding that decision will be up to the sanitary authority. “It is up to my client, my board to make that decision.

“We'll see how it plays out,” he said.

Tom Yerace is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-226-4675 or tyerace@tribweb.com.

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