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Independence approves controversial $30 million plan to implement smart meters

INDEPENDENCE, Mo. -- The Independence City Council is drawing fire after approving measure to install so-called "smart meters" for electric and water customers.

The council previously voted "no" on the issue, twice, and took a new vote this week, without warning.

Smart meters, also known as advanced metering infrastructure or AMI, are designed to capture your water and electric use without requiring someone to go into neighborhoods and read meters. But some residents and council members don't think the cost savings add up and hope the council's surprise vote isn't the end of this debate.

In the middle of Monday's Independence City Council meeting, a surprise motion was made.

"Madam mayor, I'd move for authorization to execute contract with core and main for advanced meter infrastructure," Independence City Councilman Curt Dougherty said.

The problem is that item wasn't on the agenda.

"What are we talking about here? Is this a re-hash of what we buried last time?" Councilman Tom VanCamp said.

Dougherty said, "Yes."

The public and some council members clearly thought the issue was dead.

"I was aghast at the arrogance of the council," Councilwoman Karen DeLuccie said.

In fact, during two past council meetings, the same measure for the city to spend $30 million on "smart meters" was struck down after public outcry.

"It is underhanded. The council had voted and listened to the people -- not once but twice -- that they did not want AMI meters on their houses," resident Lucy Young said.

Although it's estimated smart meters could save independence $44 million over time, some are skeptical.

Current salaries for meter readers to check water and electric use are about $2 million. Multiplied out over 15 years, that's $30 million. That's the same cost to install the new meters for a 15-year contract, and that doesn't factor possible future software upgrades.

"This is not well-spent money. We ought to be looking at other things that are more important, like rate reduction in the city," Councilman Michael Huff said.

Residents like Lucy Young are now organizing a petition effort, hoping to undo the city's decision on smart meters. They'll need 100 signatures fast to get the ball rolling.

"I guess we're going to find out if people really care. I hope they do," DeLuccie said.

Anyone interested in signing the petition can contact “Independence, Missouri breaking news and current events” on Facebook, via Twitter at @indepmonews or email independencebreakingnews@gmail.com.

FOX4 reached out to the city council members who voted "yes" on smart meters and only heard back from one, John Perkins, who said it's not unusual for items to be added to the agenda during the meeting. He said he stands by his decision.

The city of Independence sent FOX4 a lengthy statement, which is below in its entirety:

“The City Council of Independence voted last night to move forward with the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) project in a 4-3 vote. Council member Curt Dougherty asked for his fellow council members to revote on the Core & Main proposal which had previously been defeated in a 5-2 vote on March 18.

"The conversation around AMI began on June 1, 2015, when the City Council passed Resolution 6013 which directed the City Manager to explore the feasibility of AMI for the Water, Water Pollution Control, and Power & Light departments. Following that analysis, a Request for Proposals (RFP) for AMI was issued on April 3, 2017. The RFP was closed in May 2017, with seven vendors submitting proposals. Proposals were then evaluated and scored by City staff. A staff evaluation of proposals resulted in a recommendation for Core & Main as the highest rated overall. The Public Utility Advisory Board (PUAB) concurred with this recommendation. A contract with Core & Main was negotiated and presented to the Council on April 16, 2018 as Bill No. 17-115. Council then decided to review other proposals before making a final decision.

"Both City staff and the PUAB rated Honeywell as the second overall provider. On August 13, 2018, firms who submitted the five highest rated proposals were provided an opportunity to make presentations directly to the City Council and members of the PUAB. The Council elected to gather additional information in lieu of approving the ordinance.  On November 5, 2018, the City Council passed Resolution No. 6384 authorizing the City Manager to negotiate a contract with Honeywell.

"On March 7, 2019, the PUAB reaffirmed their prior recommendation for Core & Main. On March 18, both contracts from Core & Main and Honeywell were once again brought before the Council. Council members undertook a detailed discussion of the project, citizen concerns, and pros/cons of each of the contracts. Following this discussion, both proposals were voted down 5-2.Last night the City Council reconsidered this decision, and voted in favor of proceeding with AMI implementation.

"Following the April 1 vote to move forward with Core & Main, City staff will now prepare an opt-out policy while also working to finalize an agreement with the company. Citizens will see a detailed implementation plan of the new meters in the coming months. The initial cost of this project is approximately $30 million. It is estimated the City will break even in eight years and will save an estimated $44 million over 15 years. This will be a 3-year deployment, with Year 1 being a Pilot Project involving the installation and testing of 5% of the water and electric meters. The City of Independence is one of the last utilities to go to AMI for electric and water metering in the Kansas City metro region.

"City Council will hear information on proposed rate structure changes and alternate sources of energy as they prepare for the potential closing of the Blue Valley Power Plant as outlined in the Energy Master Plan.”

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