There will be digital smart meters for Independence utility customers, after all.

In an out-of-the-blue scenario, a City Council majority Monday approved entering into a contract with Core & Main to install advanced metering infrastructure – more popularly known as smart meters.

Core & Main and Honeywell had both been turned down two weeks ago by 5-2 votes. They offered two different types of systems, but Core & Main’s had been the first choice for city staff and the Public Utilities Advisory Board from the beginning.

The $29.45 million Core & Main contract had not been on Monday's agenda. Council Member Curt Dougherty, who had voted for the Honeywell contract, reintroduced the agenda item, and Scott Roberson, who had preferred Core & Main from the beginning, seconded the motion. Dougherty said later that he and Roberson had talked about bringing up the matter again, knowing both had similar views on the possible benefits to the city.

“He wanted one vendor, I wanted another; we both think it's the right thing to do,” Dougherty said, adding that he went with Core & Main “in the spirit of compromise.”

The city's aim with smart meters 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.

“Is this a rehash of what we buried two weeks ago?” Council Member Tom Van Camp asked before the vote, to which Dougherty said yes.

He and Roberson voted yes, as did John Perkins – a no vote on both counts two weeks ago – and Mayor Eileen Weir, who had voted yes on both counts. Van Camp, Mike Huff and Karen DeLuccie voted no Monday.

Perkins asked to confirm that the council's resolution from two weeks ago that any contract negotiation include an opt-out policy, meaning in many cases a customer can refused to have it installed at his home.

“We've discussed this for four years, spent half a million on consultants and three engineering firms told us we should do this, and they have no dog in the fight,” Dougherty said. “This one's going to give the water guys the meter they wanted, and we get it all in one simpler contract.”

Roberson said that after he and Dougherty talked he would second the motion to bring back the contract, adding that he didn't talk about the matter with any other council members prior to the meeting.

In addition to being the less expensive contract, Core & Main offered more secure technology and boasts more experience installing smart meters, Roberson said.

“I think it is going to be a huge benefit to the city and the citizens,” he said. “In years down the road it could help us avoid rate increases. This will go beyond any of us on the council. It's a very far-sighted decision, and I'm glad enough of the council supported it.”

Weir said she didn't anticipate smart meters coming up for a vote again.

“I thought the matter was settled, and after all these years debating this issue people had their minds made up,” she said. “I said two weeks ago that I respect everybody's position, and I became convinced since we postponed it last April that this truly is the way to modernize the city and start realizing the cost benefits this technology will bring.”

“I know we have invested $500,000 of our citizens' money into this, and our time and energy into being advised on it, and every one said we should do this.”

Back in June 2015, the council had directed the city manager to explore the feasibility of smart meters. A request for proposals first went out in April 2017, but when Core & Main's contract first came up in that fall, 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 to offer the point-to-point system, and Honeywell rated the highest for mesh systems.

Both Kansas City Power & Light and the Kansas City, Kansas Board of Public Utilities use smart meters, and Sugar Creek (which uses KCP&L) announced it will be installing them for water this spring.