New meters OK’d, tax votes tackled

By Jason Hawk -

A $2.5 million purchase of new electric and water meters from the Eaton Corporation was approved Monday by Amherst city council.

Fearing costs would rise without prompt action — the cost already rose about $500,000 from a September estimate — council members agreed to the purchase unanimously with emergency status.

The new system will use a mesh of radio nodes to share information across the city, making collection of meter readings much faster and more accurate.

Earlier in the month, Dan Scrimma of the Eaton Corporation said he is aware of meter-reading problems and knows bills have not been correct for some time.

A third-party company has been hired to read meters for Amherst until the new system is deployed.

Several council members have said they are happy to work with Eaton because of its positive reputation.

Councilman Phil Van Treuren has worked with the company before and said the Cleveland firm is “as local as we can get for a project like this.” Council president John Dietrich said that as an electrician he worked with Eaton “and they were always very hospitable” on large jobs.

In another vote Monday, council ended its long-held policy of placing state kilowatt-hour tax proceeds into Amherst’s electric fund. Instead, the money will go into the general fund, where it can be used for any council-approved line item.

Continuing to put the tax revenue into the electric fund skews the formula used to determine monthly rates for customers, said councilman Ed Cowger. He believes the change will not affect customers’ bills significantly.

Councilman Joe Miller disagreed: “The rates will go up,” he said before casting the lone dissenting vote against the move.

He called the use of the kilowatt-hour tax a state-run “shell game” that resulted from other reductions to local government funding.

“Columbus has robbed from our communities, from our local governments,” he said.

Taxes were the target of another vote Monday in which Amherst city council joined a class action lawsuit against the state.

It challenges the constitutionality of House Bill 49 — Ohio’s biennial budget — which includes a provision to let the state seize power of municipal net-profit income tax collections.

Amherst treasurer Richard Ramsey called it a power grab that threatens cities’ right to self-rule.

Council approved $4,000 for legal fees. So far, more than 100 municipalities have joined the suit, according to Ramsey.

Jason Hawk can be reached at 440-988-2801 or @EditorHawk on Twitter.

By Jason Hawk