MALONE –– The village’s plan to replace the more than 600 water meters installed at commercial and multi-family residential properties drew fire from the roughly 25 people who turned out for a public forum on the idea Monday –– as much for the timing of the project as for its cost.

“It’s not the time for an additional expense –– it just isn’t,” Malone Chamber of Commerce President Mary Scharf told the Village Board.

Scharf said the chamber has received more calls from its membership on the issue than on any other topic in the past 10 years. Business owners are “very concerned” with the cost they are being asked to bear, as many of them have been closed or had severely curtailed hours for months as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the typically slow winter season is fast approaching, she said.

Many businesses are just starting to recover from the COVID shutdown imposed by the state “and now this,” said resident Ed Johnston.

The meter replacement plan could cost property owners several hundred dollars for the meter –– depending on the size of the water line serving the property –– as well as a $135 installation fee. Many commercial property owners simply cannot afford the added cost, several speakers said.

Mayor Andrea Dumas said she could understand the concerns but noted that the existing water metering system is beginning to fail. The meters currently used have a useful life of about 10 year, and many of them have reached or exceeded that span, she said.

The village has 608 commercial water meters; 210 of them are no longer functioning, said Village Treasurer Kristine Lashway. An additional 25 to 30 fail every quarter, Trustee Norm Bonner added.

“We’re not taking joy in putting this project through,” Dumas said, “but it’s something we have to do.”

Planning for the project was begun more than two years ago and a contract for the work was signed before the pandemic struck, Dumas said.

“None of us knew COVID would hit when we signed the agreement,” she said.

Although the work is expected to start next month, Dumas said it will be six months to a year before many properties will see their meter installed, Dumas said. The cost of the project will not come due for some time, giving property owner an opportunity to begin budgeting for the work, she said.

Dumas also said the village was willing to work with property owners who might have trouble with the cost to help them come up with a way to pay it. The village will also look into spreading the cost over the quarterly water bills, rather than asking for a lump-sum payment, she said.

The new meter system will help the village make sure those who use municipal water are paying their proportional share, Dumas said. Under the present system, some water users have been able to avoid paying for what they actually use; the new system should help spread the costs more fairly, she said.

The current metering system “has failed the village,” Dumas said.

In response to a question about how the village will respond to those who refuse to install the new meters, Dumas said water service would be shut off to the property. The village doesn’t want to take that step, “but unfortunately we’re going to have to go to that extreme,” she said.

The mayor also cautioned that water users can expect their bills to increase over the next several years as the village installs a new well in Chasm Falls to comply with state Department of Health requirements. The state has already cited the village for not have a third well to carry the water system in case of an emergency, so the village is exploring the installation of a new well –– a project expected to cost as much as $1 million.

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