A resident’s proposal to change how future multi-unit residences in Colombia would track and bill for water and electricity usage found no support at a Monday morning meeting of the advisory committee and d audit of city finances.
Bill Weitkemper, who worked in Columbia’s sewer maintenance division for more than 37 years and ran unsuccessfully for city council last year, has long advocated for an end to the practice of “master -metering”. This process bills multi-unit residences, such as apartment buildings, as a single entity.
Since utility costs are then the responsibility of homeowners, these meters do not track individual unit usage or notify residents of usage.
In his opposition to the practice, Weitkemper cites a hypothetical example of a very tech-savvy family and elderly woman living in adjacent apartments. He said the former would likely use a lot more electricity than the latter, which means the practice of master metering isn’t fair to residents who consume less utility.
These residents may also be unaware of how much electricity or water they use, a consideration that prompted California to require sub-metering — individual-unit-specific meters — of multi-unit residences starting in 2018 in the hope of reducing the consumption of public services.
Weitkemper’s proposal would ban the use of master meters in new construction, which committee chair and mayoral candidate Maria Oropallo called “currently unfathomable” in a sentiment shared by the entire committee.
Despite Weitkemper’s argument that sub-metering would bring more revenue to the city, committee members raised concerns about costs and suggested that the opposite of the proposal—more widespread master metering—would actually advantages.
Using the rate calculations cited in Weitkemper’s proposal, committee member Michael Rebstock indicated a monthly “base charge” of approximately $40 that each individual unit would face as a “mismatch”.
“They pay almost $40 more a month to have a meter,” Rebstock said. “It seems to me that the appropriate, fair and equitable response to this is to encourage future buildings to have master meters, which are more economical and cheaper for customers and less work for the city.”
Thomas Richards, who also sits on the committee, said putting the issue on the city council’s radar would also be a practical concern.
“I don’t want to diminish this problem, but if we can’t even get the council to commit to appropriate (utility) pricing in general, I don’t know how you can possibly tackle an issue like this. here,” Richards said. .
There could also be implications for other areas of city operations, committee members said, reaching beyond utilities and finance to zoning and building codes.
The lack of a recommendation provided by the committee means that Weitkemper’s proposal will have no pipeline to the board.
Weitkemper said he interpreted the committee’s discussions as generally supportive of the idea that under-metering would allow customers to be more aware of their consumption and potentially reduce their use.
“The committee is in tune with the board,” Weitkemper wrote in an email after the meeting. “Unless the staff backs a proposal, they don’t stand a chance.”