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Cost of city's water meter overhaul rises

Baltimore's water meter overhaul costs rise to $105.8 million.

The cost of a massive project to overhaul all of Baltimore's more than 400,000 water meters is rising again — this time by about $4.2 million.

On Wednesday, Baltimore's Board of Estimates is expected to allocate the additional money to the project, approving a $3.2 million contract with Metra Industries Inc. to perform "urgent" infrastructure repairs as part of the overhaul. The additional $1 million is going to the Department of Public Works for administration, officials said. The city is seeking several more contractors to perform similar work.

The latest contract award brings the project's price tag to $105.8 million.

City officials say the additional contractors will deal with time-consuming construction situations that arise during the overhaul, thereby freeing up the main contractor, Itron Inc. of Washington state, to install other meters. City officials want Itron to finish installing the new meters by 2017.

Kurt Kocher, a spokesman for the Department of Public Works, noted that Itron's contract has not increased. "Sooner or later these repairs would have had to be done," he said of the crumbling infrastructure.

In 2013, city officials awarded an $83.5 million contract to Itron to install meters for a wireless meter system to serve the system's more than 400,000 customers in Baltimore and Baltimore County. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said the upgrade is part of an effort to end "outrageous" water bill mistakes that have infuriated residents and forced the city to issue millions in refunds.

The Itron bid was about $100 million less than a competitor's, and City Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young and Comptroller Joan Pratt said they planned to watch the project closely to make sure costs did not rise over time.

The Board of Estimates has already authorized $9.7 million more to hire contractor EMA Inc. to "ensure that the program moves forward efficiently and expeditiously," and $8.4 million to hire Belgian company Itineris to overhaul the water-billing system, which connects to the new meters.

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