Wednesday, July 12, 2000

Telecom spending cut for now

Lebanon officials balk at $3M for meter equipment

By Cindi Andrews
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        LEBANON — City officials promised from the beginning that the millions spent to build a telecommunications system — $8.2 million, at last count — would buy residents more than just cable.

        But most other services — including phone and automatic fire detectors — are looking doubtful, at least for the near future.

        City Council members are saying they don't want to pay the $3 million-plus that City Manager James Patrick indicated it would cost to provide automatic meter reading (AMR). The AMR equipment would include phone and fire detector connections.

        Councilman James Reinhard characterized the plan as a dead issue Monday.

        Added Councilman Ron Pandorf, chairman of the utilities committee: “We can't afford $3 million right now as far as I'm concerned.” But if and when the economics work out, he said, he'd like to see the services added — especially phone service.

        James Baldwin, telecommunications director, said Monday it's premature to kill automatic meter reading and the accompanying phone and fire detector services.

        “This was the original reason it was built,” he said.

        Safe City technology would have linked fire detectors in every home directly to the fire department.

        City phone service — which Lebanon already was talking to companies about offering — would have lowered charges to call Cincinnati and Dayton.

        Adding these services doesn't have to cost $3 million, Mr. Baldwin said. For instance, water meter reading and the ability to remotely disconnect electricity could be removed from the plan, he said, and some work could be done in-house.

        Also, he said, the project was meant to be spread over five or more years, with equipment costs likely to fall during that time.

        Council already has invested in AMR and the other services in running the telecommunications system to every household, Mr. Baldwin said.

        “Some of the money has already been spent and a lot of the work already has been done,” he said. “I could have built this thing for a lot less” if the plan was to offer only cable and Internet access.

        The phone and Safe House components could be added without adding automatic meter reading, Mr. Baldwin said, but it's still going to require more money.


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