'$mart' meters or not?

Residents worried about potential health problems from "smart" electric meters are planning to turn out at a Tuesday Ashland City Council meeting to voice their concerns. The meeting starts at 7 p.m. in the Ashland Civic Center Council Chambers, 1175 E. Main St.

In May, councilors approved an opt-out policy for people who don't want smart meters on their property. The meters send out radio frequency waves so that meter readers do not have to come onto people's property. Using the meters also streamlines the utility billing process.

City staff members had proposed a $120 opt-out fee, plus $20 monthly charges on households that want older-style meters that don't send out signals.

A council majority rejected those fees in May.

Earlier this month, city staff members warned that allowing residents to opt-out of smart meters without any charges could cost city coffers anywhere from $12,000 to $150,000 annually. The higher figure would cover costs that could include hiring another meter reader and paying for that person's equipment and supplies.

Electric rates could be raised this coming fall on all electric customers to cover the costs.

On Tuesday, councilors will consider a new city staff proposal that would allow people to opt out by certain deadlines. Households that missed the deadlines would be charged $60.

Every household that decided not to have a smart meter would be charged a $5 monthly fee to cover extra meter reading costs, according to the city staff proposal.

Scientists generally agree that more research is needed on whether radio frequency waves from common devices such as smart meters, cellphones and wireless Internet computer routers cause health problems, especially after long-term use.

In other business on Tuesday night, councilors will consider whether to approve a $599,345 contract with Pilot Rock Excavation Inc. for a project to realign Hersey Street and Wimer Street where they connect with North Main Street.

The two streets don't line up correctly at the intersection, resulting in accidents.

The total cost of the project is estimated at $749,788, with up to $682,696 coming from the Oregon Department of Transportation to help with the work, according to a city staff memo to the City Council.

After the intersection is improved, city officials plan to move forward on a project to reduce the number of car lanes on North Main Street on the north outskirts of town. The change involves re-striping the road to make more room for bike lanes.

In other transportation news, the City Council will consider dropping a city subsidy of Rogue Valley Transportation District bus service in town that has cost Ashland $610,550 since July 2009. The subsidy cuts the normal $2 fare to $1 in Ashland, but has not boosted ridership. (Correction: This paragraph has been updated to clarify the cost of the subsidy over a specific time period.)

Meanwhile, RVTD added extra hours and Saturday service, which caused ridership to jump 22.5 percent in Ashland — at no cost to the city, according to city staff.

If the council canceled the city subsidy for bus fare reduction, it could decide to increase spending by $23,000 to provide more free bus passes to low income residents hurt by higher bus fares.

The City Council is also scheduled to discuss whether to place a measure on the November ballot that would express Ashland's support for a constitutional amendment to limit political campaign spending by corporations and unions nationwide.

Last on the agenda, the council is scheduled to revisit the issue of how far chicken coops have to be from neighboring homes and property lines.

Currently, chickens must be kept at least 75 feet away from neighboring homes. A proposed change would allow coops and chickens within 20 feet of neighboring homes. Coops and chickens also would have to be kept at least 10 feet back from property lines.

If the City Council runs out of time to consider agenda items, the items will automatically be moved to the next council meeting.

The next regular council meeting is set for July 17.

For a complete list of agenda items and for details on each item, visit www.ashland.or.us/Page.asp?NavID=14920.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.

Share This Story