Concerns Worsen

Mar 06, 2019

To the Editor:

On Feb. 20 I wrote a letter raising concerns about the installation of “smart” water meters in Long Beach Township. My concerns focused on the mix of full-time residents vs. summer-only residents. I’ve had some time to think about the impact of the installation of these meters. It’s worse than I thought.

These are my concerns.

1. Loss of revenue. By switching from the existing quarterly payments for all residents  I estimated a loss of 64 percent of the water department’s revenue. My explanation follows.

Assume there are approximately 1,600 homes in the township. On my block there are three full-time homes per 20 homes (15 percent). The estimated township breakdown amounts to 240 full-time residents vs. 1,360 summer-only homes. The metered water revenues would be 1,600 homes for three months but only 240 homes for nine months (as the summer residents shut their water off for the winter). This amounts to only 36 percent of the existing quarterly payments.

Since water bills cover the purchase of water plus the maintenance of the infrastructure (water and sewer pipes) and water department salaries, is 36 percent of existing revenue enough to cover these expenses? I looked at the 2018 township budget. The expenses for the water department alone were $7 million (salaries and expenses). The total budget was over $11 million. The loss of 64 percent of revenue would certainly create a shortfall.

When the shortfall is realized, the township would have to raise the rates, which impacts full-time residents for 12 months, but only affects summer residents for three months. The budget did show revenue of $9 million (water and sewer rents?). I’m not sure how the town arrives at that number. The budget did not contain a line item for receipts of water billings.

2. The new smart meters can be remotely accessed by the water company to read the meter and collect usage data. They also can be turned off remotely for non-payment and possible leaks. This is great for the water company (no meter readers) but presents a big privacy issue.

I really don’t care if the water company knows when I take showers and for how long or when we do wash and dishes and flush toilets. I am concerned about hackers being able to get into my meter and hold me hostage by shutting off my water until I pay a ransom. Or worse, consider hackers on the 4th of July weekend shutting off water for the entire township. If the manufacturer of the smart meters says their devices are secure, tell that to entities whose information systems were held hostage until they paid a ransom. I’d suggest that you Google “hacked smart water meters” on the Internet.

Last Feb. 20, the state Assembly introduced a bill (A-2994) that requires permission from homeowners before “smart” meters can be installed. If I opt out I believe there is a $15/month fee, which I assume covers the cost of people meter readers. Will the township’s installation of these meters happen before the bill is passed? Has the township already purchased the meters and what will it do with them if too many people opt out?

I realize these are just my estimates, but with accurate data from the township, I believe they won’t be too far off. The township’s letter on the new meters states that the installation is “required by the State” (State is underlined). It seems like an attempt to shift blame for the proposal to the state.

The Feb. 20 issue of The SandPaper has a story on Surf City’s water bill increase. The story also states that Surf City does not meter water usage. Does the state only require Long Beach Township to meter water usage? If the state really requires these meters by law, the township should appeal that ruling based on LBI’s mix of residents. If, however, this is the township’s idea, just scrap it. The township says that more information will be provided in the upcoming months. I believe the township should hold open hearings to address these concerns before we go too far.

Andy Matthews

Peahala Park

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