Town Alters Policy After Dispute Surfaces Over Damaged Meter

BERLIN – The town of Berlin will pay more of the bill when staffers determine work must be done on residential water meters, the Berlin Mayor and Council concluded Monday night.

Prompted by a dispute over a bill for moving a water meter and repairing a damaged cut-off, the council will consider an official change to town policy at the Aug. 25 council meeting.

Council member Paula Lynch, speaking before the council as a private citizen, along with Rick Savage of contractor Goody Hill, disputed a $700 bill for water meter work undertaken at a property under renovation owned by her family.

The issue began when a trash truck working for contractor Goody Hill damaged the cut-off for the water meter at the South Main St. property, necessitating repairs.

Neither Savage nor Lynch objected to paying to repair the damage, which both deemed the responsibility of the contractor, but the bill seemed too high.

The extensive costs on the bill came from moving the water meter further back on the property, according to town staff.

“The bill says repairs to damage by trash truck but I ended up with a new water meter,” said Lynch.

The extra work was not disclosed to Lynch or the contractor. “Nobody contacted me. The work was just done. Four or five months later, I got the bill,” said Lynch.

The property is located close to Worcester Preparatory School, where Lynch works.  “I was across the street,” she said.

It wouldn’t have taken much effort to contact Lynch, interim Mayor Gee Williams said.

The original bill was closer to $900, than $700, said Savage, but he persuaded Water Superintendent Marvin Smith to reduce the bill by the cost of the new water meter.

The installation of the new meter was a town decision, and did not stem from damage caused by outside forces, but simply wear and tear.

“Why should I bear the responsibility of a new meter?”
asked Savage.

A similar situation arose at another property during a house demolition, Savage said, but that repair took only 15 minutes. The repair at the Lynch-owned house seemed to require two trucks and three men and took longer.

“I felt everything on there was so high,” Savage said of the bill.

Berlin Administrative Director Linda Bambary looked into the bill.

“This is how we’ve been billing,” Bambary said.

If a meter is damaged, the town may determine that the device should be relocated, and can waive the fee for doing so if town staff feels that is warranted, she said.      

“So Berlin is responsible for anything beyond repairs to inflicted damage,” Williams concluded.

The decision to put more of the costs on the town of Berlin was setting a precedent, Williams said.

Charges to property owners in these cases should be more reasonable, he added.

Other changes and controversies are on the horizon for Berlin’s water utility.

One of the dilemmas facing Berlin during the planned switch to wireless water meters is whether to require property owners to pay for the new meters or whether the town should bear the cost.

In the past, property owners have been billed for the new meter when the town switched to different technology.

A measure discussed in July allowing an existing water meter to be removed then reinstated without paying fees meant for new hook-ups is in the works.