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Baltimore seeks more contractors for water meter overhaul

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said the upgrade to the water meter system is part of an effort to end "outrageous" water bill mistakes that have infuriated residents and forced the city to issue millions in refunds.
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake has said the upgrade to the water meter system is part of an effort to end "outrageous" water bill mistakes that have infuriated residents and forced the city to issue millions in refunds. (Lloyd Fox, Baltimore Sun)

Baltimore city is soliciting for four new contracts to help with a massive overhaul of the city's more than 400,000 water meters — a move likely to add to the project's current $101.6 million price tag.

The four new solicitations, considered "urgent needs" contracts, seek to hire contractors to deal with time-consuming construction situations that arise during the overhaul, thereby freeing up main contractor Itron Inc., of Washington state, to install other meters, said Jeffrey Raymond, a spokesman for the city's Department of Public Works.

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City officials want Itron to finish installing the new meters by 2017.

"The idea is to let another contractor deal with particularly difficult situations (e.g. a meter encased in concrete) so that Itron can keep moving on the more routine replacements," Raymond said. "We have them on a pretty aggressive schedule and don't want them losing time dealing with these occasionally difficult situations."

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Last year, city officials awarded an $83.5 million contract to Itron to install meters for a new wireless meter system that will serve 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 to hire Belgian company Itineris to overhaul the water-billing system, which will connect to the new meters.

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