Why is the water meter bill so high?
By Amanda Dove
As Discovery Bay residents received the bill for their water meter this week, residents took to social media to compare bills and share concerns.
While the water meter installations and corresponding bills have been well publicized via public meetings, mailings and public discussion for well over a year, many people found the bill, or elements of it, a surprise.
Why do we have a bill? The state mandated that every home have a water meter by 2025. Original Discovery Bay homes had evenly distributed water costs included in their annual parcel tax. With the implementation of the water meters, that property tax line item no longer exists.
The original plan estimated a water meter installation budget of approximately $3.11 million. For 3,528 installs, everyone would pay about $906 per household. however, residents were opposed to sharing the cost equally and a town meeting proved that residents wanted to pay their actual cost per household, as opposed to evenly sharing the cost across all homes – some of which might have higher costs due to obstructed access to the meter. That choice required a construction manager and inspectors be hired to then gauge every cost per residence and ultimately doubled the length of the project.
Why are some homes receiving bills higher than others? Each home has its own construction cost. Some were simple, some required more equipment or labor.
Tier 1: simple replacement
Tier 2: (most common) dig or take a box out and replace
Tier 3: concrete issue or obstruction to meter box
Some properties had fences or palm trees, fancy mailboxes or the like that each added to that particular owner’s cost. “The town had to create a construction cost for every project” as residents had demanded, stated Town Manager, Mike Davies. The small differences from home-to-home included such differences as perhaps the use of a 1″ or 3/4″ meter, (i.e.: $216 vs $192 line item). The cost differences are as little as a few dollars to as great as a few thousand, depending on the individual costs associated with each property. Town manager, Davies, explains that each of these costs can be broken down if a homeowner asks for the detail, but on the initial bill it was agreed the excessive detail complicated understanding as opposed to helping.
With regard to financing, the Town expects a 3-4% interest rate for those who chose to amortize the cost across ten years – and why not? The rate will vary, depending upon how many people choose the finance option. The more people that do, the lower the cost will be. For example, if 3,000 homeowners choose the financing option there will be an estimated $1 per month in interest financing, and most residents will find this option most affordable, especially those who will sell their homes in that time, as new owners will assume the costs.
In the end, most residents appear not to be upset about the expense, but more so about the limited, 30-day advance notice of the charge and also about the perceived lack of transparency on the initial billing.