Vassar City Council member Pat Mecham, left, makes a motion – approved unanimously – to allow city residential water customers to have water meters installed at their homes on a voluntary basis. Council member Melissa Armstrong is at right.

VASSAR — The city of Vassar’s 728 residential water customers don’t have to install water meters as part of a $10 million water improvement project. But they can if they want to.

VASSAR — The city of Vassar’s 728 residential water customers don’t have to install water meters as part of a $10 million water improvement project.

But they can if they want to.

City leaders are allowing “voluntary installation of meters” after Vassar City Council members voted 4-1 at their Jan. 9 meeting to not require installation of residential meters as part of the project.

Currently, the city uses water meters to measure water usage and bill the city’s 178 commercial and industrial customers. Residential customers pay a periodic flat fee regardless of the amount of water usage.

Mayor Michael Damm said his home is billed on a periodic flat “standard” rate, while a house next to him – occupied by Damm’s son and daughter-in-law – is billed by how much water is used, according to readings from a water meter.

“Just for a comparison, I brought the water bills today,” Michael Damm said at the Jan. 9 meeting. 

“Mine was $82.66, and theirs was $50.92 – for their two-person (household) on a water meter.”

“Sign me up (for a water meter),” said city resident Carson Atkins, seated in the audience.

Damm said he hasn’t seen a water bill higher than $62 for the residence of his son and daughter-in-law.

City residents, however, in recent weeks had collected signatures of residents opposed to the city’s Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Project Plan. Several residents told The Advertiser their main opposition to the plan was the requirement that water meters be installed as part of the project.

The city plans for workers to remove, replace and install new water mains and wells during the project.

Later in the Jan. 9 meeting, the council voted 5-0 to approve a motion by council member Pat Mecham to offer a voluntary program for residents wanting installation of residential water meters.

“I respect the people who don’t want meters; I don’t have any problem with that, but those aren’t the only people that I am representing,” said Mecham.

“I am also representing the senior citizens and the single people, and the people who might want a meter. And for that reason, I think … you should give people an option.”

The city plans to sell up to $10 million of bonds to the state Department of Treasury – paying back that amount, along with interest, over a maximum of 40 years – to raise money for water system improvements.

Much of the project cost, however, would be covered by a $6.7 million grant received from the state Department of Environment, Great Lakes and Energy (DEGLE) from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.

Vassar City Manager Andrew Niedzinski said that, on average, the city uses 6.5 million gallons of water per month, with about 600,000 gallons of that total used by the city’s commercial and industrial customers.

“So 5.9 million gallons of water goes to the city’s residential accounts – or if there’s water loss in the system, we don’t know,” Niedzinski said.

Chuck Fabbro, Vassar’s mayor pro tem, noted that a customer paying a flat periodic rate for water – rather than paying for the water used as measured by a meter – may not be inclined to save water.

“In the past we had a talk about it, because some people had a leaky toilet, but there was no incentive to fix it,” Fabbro said. “There was no incentive to fix – somebody could just leave a water hose on.”

“It puts a stress on our system,” Niedzinski said.

Niedzinski said the city recently gave a “free” water meter to a commercial complex housing a new Family Dollar store along M-15 in Vassar.

“The first (meter) is free,” said Niedzinski, adding that he imagines it would be a goal of the city council to continue that policy in regard to residential customers asking for a water meter.

Seeing as the $6.7 million grant will pay for most of the cost of the upcoming water system improvement project, some city officials want to know now of any residential customers wanting a meter.

“If we have people that volunteer for water meters, we’re going to want to include those meters in the project, so that we can get 75 percent off the cost of buying and installing those meters (by using the grant money to cover those costs),” Damm said.

Mayor Damm said it’s wise to allow residents to volunteer for water meters.

“Ultimately what I want to do is what’s fair and right for our people,” Damm said. “I don’t think it’s right that a fully-employed person that has a pool and waters their lawn should pay the same as the fixed-income single person that has a hard time making ends meet as it is.”