Water meters may be closer than you think
Hamilton City Council staff are being accused of deliberately withholding information relating to the roll out of water meters in the city for fear of influencing the election.
Candidate Dave Macpherson used the Official Information Act to obtain a year's worth of emails between the council and WEL Networks, which showed investigations were far more advanced than most realised.
But he did not get the information until 5pm on Friday, the maximum 20 working days in which an organisation must comply with a request under the act.
Mr Macpherson, who withdrew from the mayoral race but is a returning councillor, said he had no doubt the release timing was "deliberate", despite council staff telling him they were not working to instruction from senior staff.
The bundle comprised five emails between city infrastructure general manager Chris Allen and WEL business development manager Jack Ninnes back to September last year, and a copy of an agenda report which has been in the public arena since December.
Staff have been funded to investigate water-demand management options, but Mr Macpherson feared they were blinkered in favour of meters.
A comprehensive external consultant's report last year identified and analysed a series of preferred options, but only one excluded water meters.
Mr Macpherson said it was a case of when, not whether meters were coming.
In September last year, Mr Ninnes briefed Mr Allen on WEL Networks' progress rolling out its electricity smart meter technology, and expectations that every property in Hamilton will be connected to the company's new network through a fully functioning WEL Networks smart box by the middle of this year.
Mr Ninnes then told Mr Allen he had just brought together a specialist team to develop a smart water meter "proof of concept" to demonstrate the smart boxes could also support water meters, feeding information directly to WEL.
He discussed a small field trial of smart water meters connected to Raglan properties already hooked up to WEL Networks' completed smart network.
That pitch by the company to senior council staff was in February, the documents show, with WEL Networks flying in two Australian specialists to help it to sell its "bleeding edge" water meters.
WEL had little to add yesterday.
A consultant speaking on WEL's behalf, Pamela Bonney, said only that "as part of our commitment to looking at new ways to deliver better value and efficiency to our customers WEL Networks is exploring the capabilities of Smart Network technology".
Mr Allen was in meetings and unable to respond to Waikato Times inquiries.
Auckland residents have been paying for their water for years.
Resident Alistair Wall said meters meant he and his wife Deb and their two children watched water consumption carefully.
"In the summer, the bill goes up a lot more because you water the garden. We've been charged for wastewater the last couple of years, which is a per percentage of the water used."
Mr Wall said a typical monthly bill was about $70 to $90, depending on the time of year.
Hamilton Residents and Ratepayers Association president Rod Bowman was surprised talks on water matters were so advanced in Hamilton.
"The council staff have not communicated this to any large degree to councillors and definitely not to the public."
Mr Bowman said there had not been adequate transparency from council staff on other issues, too.
"If this is going to be a surprise, and it's all going to be over in five minutes, I'd say they are going to get a very strong backlash from the ratepayers."
He said there were many other innovative ideas that could be looked at before water meters.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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