Plan for Fiber Optic Network Removed from Water Meter Contract

EVANSVILLE — A plan to construct a fiber optic ring as part of a new water meter system was officially removed Tuesday from the city of Evansville’s contract with Johnson Controls, Inc., in a 5-0 vote by the Water & Sewer Utility Board.

The city and Johnson Controls since 2011 have been shaping a plan to modernize the way water meters are read. Mayor Lloyd Winnecke said last week that the proposed fiber optic alternative would be taken out of the contract, and cellular technology or a virtual private network would be used instead.

It’s a change aimed at reducing the plan’s cost. The contract was initially not to exceed $57 million; the amendments trim the maximum to $46 million. City officials expect actual costs to be a bit less.

Water & Sewer Utility Board members said they are eager to see the project to go forward. Automating the water meters means they can be read in real time, and data will be more accurate.

“Some of us have lived this thing for two years. We’re getting closer,” said Jeff Hatfield, the Utility Board’s president.

About $12 million in bonds for the project already have been approved by the Utility Board. The remaining financing requires a positive vote from the Evansville City Council. The proposal is to be on the council’s July 8 meeting agenda.

Council leaders have aired concerns about the project’s cost and its promised cost savings, which are critical to paying off the bonds. But Council Finance Chairman John Friend, D-5th Ward, and Vice President Dan Adams, D-At-large, endorsed removal of the fiber optic ring.

AT&T Indiana President George Fleetwood also welcomed the change. The company said Evansville would have been building over existing infrastructure to automate its meters.

Fleetwood met last week with Winnecke and other city officials before the mayor announced the Johnson Controls contract would be scaled back.

“We didn’t believe a public-sector network was necessary to achieve that objective,” Fleetwood said in a telephone interview from Indianapolis.