Melfi: I’ll monitor meters

GIRARD – Mayor Jim Melfi spent the last several months arguing against replacing residential water meters in Girard, even vetoing the legislation last month.

On Wednesday night, city council made the decision to go forward with the measure by a 5-1 vote, leaving Melfi with few counter options.

“It is a done deal unless there is a referendum by citizens of Girard,” Melfi said. “I’m not willing to initiate something like that at this time. What I will do is monitor the purchase very closely. Promises were made that this will pay for itself. We’ll just have to see if that is accurate.

”Council may appropriate funds and agree to it, but (the administration) are the ones that have to see the day-to-day operation of this project, and we will be watching very closely.

“I’m going to be making sure we receive the technology we are supposed to receive. We will see if this brings in what they say. If not, I will make the public well aware of it,” he said.

Councilman Louis Adovasio defended the decision by council, citing the antiquated system currently in place for city workers and a loss of revenue.

“The meters are out of date and inaccurate. They calcify and give you inaccurate readings,” Adovasio said. “We’re way past due. Niles is on their second round replacing meters. We haven’t replaced any in 70 years.”

Additionally, tests have shown the city suffers a revenue loss of approximately 20 percent due to older meters not designed to register low flow. This projected influx of currently uncollected money should offset the cost of the measure, according to Adovasio.

The updated meters will enable city workers to take readings without having to enter homes. Under the current system, if city workers are unable to enter a home, residents are asked to call in their own readings.

Adovasio, who has been working on this legislation since the 1990s, said the city finally will get accurate water readings.

“It is long overdue. Not only will the readings be accurate, but we will also identify problems earlier,” Adovasio said.

The estimated $1.53 million contract with Neptune Equipment to supply and install new radio frequency meters will go into effect beginning Jan. 12. Citywide residential installations are projected to be completed in six to eight months.

Melfi has argued that while the meters do need replacing, this is not the time to initiate such an expensive program. The Girard Lakes property, which costs the city $242,000 annually, is set to be paid off in 2015.

“In just three short years, the upper and lower lakes purchase would be complete, and that is the time to take on something big like this,” Melfi said of the Girard Lakes property.

“If the sales pitch doesn’t pan out and it doesn’t pay for itself, by waiting to have that money freed up, we would have a cushion,” Melfi said. “Now, if things don’t go the way they say, you have to pinch the sewer and water funds. One of those – the sewer fund – is weak to begin with.”

Girard spent the majority of the last decade in fiscal emergency, before recently having the designation lifted. This should be a lesson to the current city council not to rush into large projects, according to Melfi.

“Back in the 1990s, we had decisions made by the council that burdened the city,” Melfi said. “I’m just very surprised this council is taking this step six months out of fiscal emergency.”

While the city will go forward with the measure, Melfi said he will not pass additional costs onto the taxpayer as a result.

“I will not raise water rates to pay for blunders of City Council. Water rates have to go up 8 percent each year for Girard, McDonald, Niles and Youngstown to make up for price increases by our supplier,” Melfi said. “That is enough of a hike on water for most people. If council believes the city will pass a cost along to the citizens if these meters do go into the negative, they haven’t been listening to what I’ve had to say on the matter.

“If this goes in the negative, they will have to take from the police and fire funds, not from the people. I just hope they are right and it works,” he said.