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Newark residents who repeatedly fail to schedule or allow installation of the new smart water meters could have their water turned off, according to an ordinance passed Monday night by council.

Under the updated law, customers who ignore two notices could have their water turned off, though city officials have pledged to give extra notices.

City Manager Carol Houck said the legislation was introduced as a precaution, not as a reaction to problems the city has had.

“We believe we have these rights now, but we’re just making it crystal clear,” Houck said, noting that the city owns both the old and new style of meters and has always had a right to access them.

The city began installing smart meters in all businesses and residences early this year. The meters have built-in transmitters that feed information on water and electricity usage directly to city servers, without the need for workers to come out to read the meters.

The installation of water meters, expected to last through the end of the year, requires residents to make an appointment for a worker to do the replacement. Electric meters, located outside the home, can be replaced without the homeowner present.

Houck said a “handful” of people have neglected to make an appointment, but noted that she is not aware of anyone who has refused the new meters. When first announced, the meters prompted resistance from some who claimed they were a violation of privacy and emitted harmful radiation.

“We’ve been able to satisfy, to the best of my knowledge, those concerns,” Houck said.

The ordinance, passed unanimously (with Mayor Vance A. Funk III absent), states that the city has the right to enter residents’ property to examine, replace or repair meters, provided written notice is given. Failure to respond within 15 days of receiving a second notice could result in the customer’s water being turned off.
Houck said the city will exhaust all its options before turning off water, including sending employees out to knock on the door.

“By the time we turn it off, they’ll have avoided every method,” she said.
Council on Monday also approved new water rates.

Customers will see increases of 5 percent, which equates to an extra $1.82 per month for the average user, Houck said.

The changes, which go into effect with the Sept. 1 billing cycle, are on top of increases customers with smart meters may have already noticed.

Because the old style of meters lose accuracy over time, many customers were being underbilled, city officials say. Thus, with the new smart meters, those customers may see an increase in their bill.
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