Although only one person attended the Mohawk Valley Water Authority's public meeting at Utica City Hall, the topics covered will ultimately impact all of the system's nearly 125,000 customers.

Patrick Becher first discussed the impact of a 1.9 percent rate increase, noting that the cost for a normal family of four equates to about $6 a year.

"The water rate increase is being driven predominantly by two major factors," Becher said. "The first one is an increase in our payment to the New York State Retirement System. That went up about $240,000 from this year to next year. The other thing that is going up is our insurance umbrella, which includes our liability insurance and our worker's compensation insurance. Those two pieces alone, by themselves, require a 1.7 percent water rate increase. The other portions of our budget are really driving just .2 percent of an increase."

But, the small added cost to customers wasn't the main focal point of the public hearing. Within the next couple of weeks, Becher says 40 to 60 homes in the area will be converted to a new radio operated meter system that will automatically provide the MVWA with usage information. He says by using a system much like the one National Grid uses, it will save everyone money in the long run.

"It'll be less intrusive for customers," Becher said. "They won't have to let anybody in their house or on their property once the final conversion is done, and it'll allow us to read every meter in the system every single day by radio and computer. We can also be proactive and tell customers if we spot any problems that are abnormal, which the software will be continually looking for."

If the trial run proves successful, radio meters will be installed throughout the MVWA system within the next two to three years. At a cost of $3 million dollars, Becher said the project was funded through bond sales, keeping customers from financing such a large endeavor. It was also already factored into the MVWA's current budget, coming at no added cost to customers.

A switch to newer technology does come at the cost of several jobs, though the cuts will be made through the use of retirements and unfilled positions. Employees currently reading meters will be transitioned to other sections of the MVWA, ultimately costing no one a job.

The third large topic covered during the meeting was a proposal to offer municipalities a discount in water rates if they promote quality of life projects within their boundaries. Among the eligible projects are skating rinks, artificial snow making, swimming pools.

Becher noted the possible discounts would only total about $25,000 to $30,000 in lost income. Throughout the region, 21 municipal accounts would be eligible to take part in the program.

Next week, the MVWA Board will vote on the new rate structure during its monthly Board meeting at Utica City Hall.