As it has before, Independence's Public Utilities Advisory Board on Thursday reaffirmed its recommendation for the bid by the company Core & Main for advanced metering infrastructure, or “smart meters,” for the city's utilities.

According to city documents, Core & Main's latest bid is just less than $29.45 million, a slight decrease from the $29.7 million contract the two sides negotiated almost two years ago, when the City Council first considered smart meters.

City Manager Zach Walker said a contract could be on the council's March 18 agenda, possibly as a non-ordinance action item that requires one reading.

The aim is to save money. According to latest estimates the city could realize a net savings of $44 million over 15 years with the Core & Main deal, break even in about eight years and cut 15 full-time positions. With the Honeywell deal, 15-year savings project to be about $40.5 million, with a break-even point in nine years and 14 positions cut (one technician would be needed to maintain the mesh network).

The PUAB considered Core & Main's bid against that of Honeywell, which right now sits at just less than $29.7 million but is not yet finalized.

“We're still trying to work out the price with Honeywell,” said Paul Lampe, Power & Light system operations manager.

“It's close to being finalized,” said City Counselor Shannon Marcano, adding that the city could go with a not-to-exceed price to bring an agenda item before the council.

The city started researching smart meters about four years ago, but when Core & Main's contract first came up in the fall of 2017, the council punted on that decision, then turned it down in April 2018. The majority of council members cited further consideration for the best technology and implementation options as reasons for voting no. In August 2018, the council heard presentations from the five finalist vendors.

Core & Main was the lone vendor from five finalist vendors that offered a point-to-point digital transmission system and was preferred by city staff, while all others offered what’s called a mesh system. Honeywell rated the highest from that group.

After Mayor Eileen Weir asked the PUAB more than once the group said that if the council decided on a mesh vendor then it should be Honeywell. In November, a council majority directed city staff to negotiate with a contract with Honeywell – with separate purchase for water meters – for comparison purposes.

“We have our recommendation,” Assistant City Manager Mark Randall said, referring to the Core & Main bid. “They're close. It'll be up to the council.”

“It sounds like we have all the questions answered with Core & Main and we have tons of questions with Honeywell,” PUAB member Jerry Adkins said.

“They've done this for awhile,” board member Joe Zsak said of Core & Main. “They know what they're doing. It seems like the logical choice.”

Said Larry Porter, “If I was on the council, I would be embarrassed I chose Honeywell just because it was Honeywell, not because it was the better meter. I want the best for the citizens and ratepayers.”

Matt McLaughlin, water systems deputy director, said the vendors' water meters are similar in accuracy and city staff would be comfortable working with either one.

Citizen Lowell Kroft, whose work career has centered around data networks, said in a letter submitted to PUAB members that he much prefers point-to-point infrastructure for city-wide implementation. A mesh infrastructure might be good for a small area, he said, but the Core & Main deal works best for the city, he said.