Elliot Zulver, president of Walbrook Mill and Lumber Co. Inc., recently received $9,000 and $64,000 bills at his properties that he believes are erroneous. He isn't so sure a new contract will fix the city's billing problems.

"The system will only be as good as the guys who are setting it up," he said.

Itron officials declined to discuss their proposal, citing procurement rules. Officials at Dynis agreed to talk generally about their company and the product the team is offering.

Dynis CEO Earl Scott said he's long been preparing for the opportunity to overhaul the city's water meters. Members of his team include financier J.P. Grant, CEO of Grant Capital Management, a big campaign donor to the mayor who ran the Grand Prix of Baltimore; consultant Peter Auchincloss, the president of Watermark Corp., who was once a city planning commissioner; and members of Kearney-O'Doherty Public Affairs, the politically connected communications firm.

"We have assembled what I believe is the best in the industry to work on this project," Scott said. "We didn't just stumble into this. We didn't just fall into this. We've been working on this for three years."

Most significantly, Dynis has partnered with Sensus, the North Carolina-based smart meter company that frequently competes with Itron on contracts throughout the country. But Dynis, which builds communication networks, has never worked on a water meter system before.

Itron is considered a global leader in wireless water meters. Last month, the company announced it has been ranked No. 1 across multiple categories in a global water meter market analysis report. Last summer, the company said it was providing thousands of their meters to India.

Providing smart meters to just a quarter of county customers is one reason the Itron proposal would save money. The company proposes to charge less for everything from supplying transmitters to providing software maintenance.

City officials could finance the work with water bonds, but also asked each team for an alternative financing proposal.

Grant, who has provided more than $250 million in financing in Baltimore, is proposing a 3.85 percent interest rate over 10 years. Itron is offering alternative financing through Government Capital Corp., which would charge a 2.85 percent interest rate over 10 years.