Smithville approves smart meter opt-out plan
Smithville residents will now be able to opt-out from the citywide transition to automated electric meters, after the city council approved a proposed fee-based plan this week.
After weeks of controversy over the city’s planned switch to smart meters, sparked by residents’ health, privacy and security concerns, the council unanimously voted to institute the plan proposed by City Manager Robert Tamble, charging residents who do not want their analog mechanical electric meters replaced with smart meters a $75 installation fee and $10 per month to cover the costs the city will incur to maintain and staff manual readings.
For low-income residents — 125% of the poverty line — the cost will be reduced to a $35 one-time fee and $5 per month.
“Again, it’s not a perfect world,” Councilman Bill Gordon said before the vote Monday night. “Ideally, I would like to have a free opt-out program, I’d like to have free gasoline, I’d like to have free city services. But, the world doesn’t work that way.”
The city’s transition to smart meters, which send electric and water consumption data once a day back to utility departments for billing using a less than 20 millisecond radio frequency pulse, is a part of a $3.4 million utility upgrade project that will also improve the city’s electric consumption by replacing light bulbs with LED lights and automate the city’s electric and water billing system.
Before the council’s vote, six residents spoke during the public hearing on the proposed plan — four advocating for a lower cost or free plan and two applauding the city for its efforts, asking for a plan that doesn’t add costs to the city.
“Consider the needs of people with health issues,” said Smithville resident Jenny Busche, bringing up people she knows who have pacemakers and don’t use the Internet, cell phones or microwaves to avoid radio frequency. “These people need to be able to opt out. They don’t need to be penalized or punished for it.”
Smithville resident James Breeden, who said he was not for or against the opt-out program, praised the city for the overall switch to smart meters and recommended the council not institute a program that would add additional costs to the city.
“There’s more (radio frequency) in this room right now than a meter will emit in 100 years,” said Breeden, in response to some of the concerns from other residents related to the meters.
Former City Councilwoman Lenel Tamez, who was on council when the city began looking into the utility upgrade project, defended the council during her comment at the meeting.
“As a taxpayer who is not opting out, I feel that an opt out program should be paid for by the participants,” Tamez said.
Tamble said 100 people would have to opt out for the city to break even on its estimated $19,500 in costs associated with implementing the program. If less than 100 sign up for the program, it will take longer for the city to recoup its costs, Tamble said after the meeting.
The switch to smart meters will begin in January, with crews installing the technology in five different zones of the city over time until the transition is complete in June. Leading up to the installations, Tamble said informational reminders will be hung on residents’ doors.
Those wishing to opt out will need to sign up with the city as late as three days before their scheduled installation date. The final opt-out deadline for current residents is June 1, but new residential customers will have an option to opt-out when they sign-up after June 1.
“We’ve had a lot going on in the last few weeks — a lot of good and bad,” Mayor Mark Bunte said at the close of the meeting. “Hopefully, as we move into next year everyone will work together the best we can.”