Council defeats grant resolution for water meter pilot program

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A resolution calling for authorization of Mayor Jacqueline M. Izzo to submit an application for a $1.7 million state Department of Environmental Conservation Green Grant, amended from $1 million, was defeated by the Common Council Wednesday during its regular meeting held via audio stream.

The grant would have been for a Water Meter Pilot Program with a 50% match.

Several councilors indicated they didn’t feel comfortable supporting the grant application without more information about the program and with knowledge that several community members have voiced their opposition for water meters in the past.

Third Ward Councilor Kimberly Rogers said she had concerns there was no documentation related to expenditures.

“It’s hard to apply for a grant when you don’t have documentation, and the public hasn’t had the opportunity to respond,” Rogers said. “I know some councilors are very opposed to meters.”

Rogers went on to say that money is tight, especially during the pandemic, and that increasing the grant from $1 million to $1.7 million grant, with the city responsible for paying the matching share, it would be even more money the city would need to pay.

“Here we’d be spending more money, and I think if we vote on a grant application to build a structure for water meters says the council supports water meters, and I don’t want to say we support water meters without any documentation,” she said.

First Ward Councilor John M. Sparace said he agreed with Rogers and wouldn’t approve the resolution.

“Like I told the DPW commissioner (Butch Conover), if I can have information, and it’s not the 11th hour,” then there is no need to make a decision now, Sparace said. “And because this is such a hot topic with people in the City of Rome, if we had more time,” then maybe it can be considered.

“I won’t say I wouldn’t be in favor of it, but we need to look at it because of our economic times,” Sparace added. “As of now, I don’t think it’s feasible to do this, and” approving the grant application “is leading people to think the council supports meters, and we’re not there.”

Fifth Ward Councilor Frank R. Anderson said there have been discussions about water meters in the city for some years and there are “mixed thoughts among the council and community.”

“We haven’t had any recent discussions, and I can appreciate what the DPW was up against” as for preparing the application, “I suggest a workshop be held for the entire council so we all hear the same message. I support getting more facts and then we can go out to the community” with them, Anderson said. “If the administration wants water meters, then we can be ambassadors to talk about it, but we can’t do this in the 11th hour — we can’t be rushed into a decision. Am I in favor of water meters? Probably, but not right now.”

Anderson added there is also the possibility that the city isn’t awarded the grant.

“What do we do then?,” he asked. “I just don’t feel comfortable voting for $1.7 million or even $850,000 at this point. I need more information and discussions with my constituents to see how they feel about it.”

Fourth Ward Councilor Ramona Smith disagreed with the majority, and said she feels the water meter program was necessary in helping the city move into a more “green” direction.

“There’s so many things I’ve read — all successful cities are going with meters and I know they’re not popular with a lot of people, but we have a lot of projects going on that we could also use that money on. Being able to read meters in real time would be really great. We also have Phase III of the water project going on in the north part of Rome — about 750 homes and they’ll need pressure valves installed,” said Smith, adding that the installation of valves would be an additional cost. “We need to look at green technology as a city and inform the public of the benefit of green technology. We need to look now and into the future, and we need to focus on plans to help promote our city.”

In later comments, Rogers “reminded” the council that a couple years ago Johnson Controls wanted to do a commercial water meter program with zero out-of-pocket cost that would have saved the city up to $350,000. The council voted in favor of it, but the Board of Estimate didn’t pass it.

“I’m not saying never or this is not doable, I’m saying lets get more information, then see if it’s feasible and if it is, how do you do that?,” Rogers said. “Then maybe a commercial water program can be built into a contract. It’s great that we wanted to move forward with a grant because they help the city save on expenditures, but I feel we missed a good opportunity” with Johnson Controls.

Rogers said the city should also consider looking into programs addressing flooding and storm water management.

Following discussion, Sparace, Second Ward Councilor John B. Mortise, Rogers, Anderson and Sixth Ward Councilor Riccardo D. Dursi Jr. voted “no” for the authorization of the grant application, while Smith and Seventh Ward Councilor A. Robert Tracy voted in favor. The resolution was therefore rejected.

In other business:

• The authorization of Mayor Izzo to submit an application to the state DEC for a Green Grant in the amount of $2.5 million, with 50 percent matching, for the Waste Water Treatment Plant Anaerobic Digestion Project, was unanimously passed by the council. Councilor Anderson said unlike Resolution 18 calling for the authorization of the water meter grant, much information was provided on the Waste Water Treatment project and that the council has expressed full support.

• A resolution authorizing Mayor Izzo to submit a $1 million grant application to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for the fire department to purchase a new aerial truck was unanimously passed.

• Sixth Ward Councilor Riccardo D. Dursi Jr. asked for a motion for the ordinance authorizing the discontinuance of a paper alley known as Butternut Street and sale of the city-owned property be tabled. “I spoke to a few residents concerned about access to the property and snow removal, so I would like to leave that on the table for this week” until the issues are addressed, he said. The motion was made and carried. A public hearing on the Butternut Street property prior to the Common Council meeting was unattended and there were no public comments made.

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