This is an open letter to the Westerville City Schools Board of Education, its administration and its employee unions.

To the editor:

This is an open letter to the Westerville City Schools Board of Education, its administration and its employee unions.

While the sentiments expressed are my own, they are shared by thousands of your constituents in Westerville, Columbus, Blendon Township, Minerva Park, Plain Township, Sharon Township and Genoa Township.

Westerville is one of the top 15 best places to live in the United States. Its school district enjoys a symbiotic relationship with the people it serves. Westerville is an excellent place to live, in part, because of our school district; and our school district is excellent, in part, because of the support it receives from our community.

Unfortunately, the past 30 months of recession have taken a toll on our country and on our community. According to The Columbus Dispatch online Data Center at www.dispatch.com, Westerville's unemployment rate has increased from 3.9 percent to 8 percent during that timeframe, leaving thousands of district residents out of work for extended periods.

Cautious taxpayers are spending less to conserve resources in order to make it from day to day. Many are living on less money today than they have in years. Our senior citizens are particularly hard-hit as interest rates on CDs and other investments have hit record lows and retirement accounts have plummeted.

This summer, the financial future of Westerville City Schools, our ability to continue to provide a superior education at an affordable price and the opportunities that we can offer our kids will be determined as you enter collective bargaining negotiations. Most years, this is about winning and losing. This year is different. This year is about survival.

History demonstrates that the outcome of these negotiations will determine the size and frequency of future levies. Already, school taxes have risen 38 percent since 2006 and based on the district's own projections, we are on track to be facing an additional 61 percent increase in school taxes between now and 2018.

In addition, our state is broke and the likelihood of additional federal funding is low. Whatever revenues are required to pay for negotiated increases will have to come from us - local taxpayers - in the form of additional property taxes.

The current board-approved forecast suggests that in the next seven years, compounding levies required to pay for the documented spending plan will result in an additional $4,000 more in taxes per $100,000 of appraised value. Clearly, this is unsustainable.

We understand that expenses rise over time. We only ask that increases in expenses are aligned with our ability to pay.

Therefore:

We beseech both sides to agree to no increases in salaries and benefits during these negotiations until such a time that Westerville's unemployment rate approaches historical norms and the economy is on the road to recovery.

We beseech both sides to remember that if levies do not pass, it will cost some teachers their jobs and it will cost all of our kids many opportunities. You can assure levy passage now by negotiating temporary salary freezes.

We ask both sides to come together in the spirit of shared sacrifice. Our community has sacrificed over the years for Westerville City Schools. Now it is your turn.

Finally, we know that monetary issues are only one aspect of these contract negotiations, but almost every aspect of school district operations is governed by the result. As you negotiate, please consider what is best for the children and not just what is best for the employees and administrators. I've included some thoughts on contract provisions on my blog at www.levyfacts.org.

In summary, you have it within your power to help keep Westerville strong; to allow us to maintain our excellent schools and to minimize future levy amounts until the economy has a chance to recover. We ask that you keep our concerns in mind during the negotiation process.

Robert Edwards

Westerville


New meters will
provide efficiencies

To the editor:

Westerville City Council unanimously passed a resolution July 20 regarding the meter replacement initiative to: 1) provide for citizen privacy on individual electricity and water use to the extent allowed by law, 2) make no changes to directly control individual electricity and water use without citizen consent, and 3) make no changes to implement time-of-day or demand-response programs without citizen consent.

We deferred the decision whether or not to implement the new meters until Sept. 7 to provide for more citizen input.

What council said, in my opinion, is that we want to limit meter replacement objectives to automated meter reading, automated outage reporting and providing our citizens with information for their own use. And the replacement meter cost must have very little impact on consumers.

If council agrees to the meter replacements, the four meter readers will be moved to fill open positions for growing citizen needs.

The future of electricity use will undoubtedly reveal these truths:

Electricity use will increase with more devices, electric vehicles, etc.

Electricity prices will be volatile and will go up.

Combine electricity use going up and prices going up, and we are headed for a world where consumers will want more choices beyond simple conservation. Today's electric meter does not provide consumers the choices they will demand in the future. It is not surprising that a recent survey showed our citizens to be overwhelmingly in favor of becoming more energy-efficient.

Note that most water meters will not be replaced. A communication device will be added if council approves on Sept. 7 to provide for automated meter reading in connection with the new electric meter.

With this communication device, citizens can enable a notification or alert if unusual water usage is detected (e.g., for a broken pipe or running toilet). One automated alert alone can save tens or hundreds of dollars that would have been wasted if that citizen waited for their bill weeks later using today's outdated technology.

The electric meters in wide use today are analog meters in a world that has gone digital. Our black rotary phones have been replaced by digital devices. Our TV broadcasts are now digitized. We went from film to digital cameras. Our automobiles are digitally controlled.

Electric meters are among the last electromechanical devices (analog) to be changed out. In fact, more than half of the meters in the United States will be changed out in this decade because the century-old meter technology will not support consumer choices.

What does giving consumers a choice mean? Let's take long-distance phone calling starting in the 1980s as an example. We were given a choice to have unlimited calls, to have limited calls, or to have a rate structure based on time of day. Think about your cell phone plan options today. A menu of choices can be envisioned for electricity use to keep bills in check.

If consumers want a choice to manage their electricity, we must provide them with an updated meter to provide that information, and a change-out of this magnitude takes years. If consumers do not want any changes, the new meters provide efficiency in readings, outage reporting and information to that citizen.

These three things are all that council is deciding on Sept. 7. If implemented, we will leave the remaining choices to our citizens.


Mike Heyeck

City council member

Westerville

No guaranteed savings
from smart meters

To the editor:

I am a Westerville resident and Realtor, so issues that have the potential to affect property values, taxes, utilities and city services are of concern to me.

Many concerns that I and many other Westerville residents have can be found at www.WestervilleSmartMeters.com. People are free to share comments and questions on this topic there as well and I continue to update this page, as I learn more about smart meters and the smart grid.

On the surface, the main purpose seems to be to get consumers to cut back on their energy usage, although, some think there may be a more sinister motive (government control).

One manufacturer of digital smart meters, MID, recommends you set your air conditioning thermostat to 78 degrees when you're home and up to 85 degrees if you're going to be gone for more than a few hours.

Do we really need a smart meter to tell us how to cut back our energy usage? Couldn't residents choose to do this already, without a smart meter, and get the same results?

My family has already taken several steps to save energy costs in our home, long before the government was offering bailouts as an incentive: use fluorescent bulbs in most of our light fixtures, replaced our old windows with more energy-efficient ones, installed insulating shades on some windows and close them during the day to block out the hot sun, installed ceiling fans to cut down on air conditioning usage, added insulation to our attic, turn lights off when we leave a room, etc.

In response to high utility bills this summer, we have also increased our thermostat from 74 degrees to 76 degrees. We have made the free-market decision to spend our hard-earned money to help save our utility costs, yet we still see them rising.

Since it seems likely that Westerville City Council will end up approving smart meters, in preparation of living with smart meter technology, I challenge the city of Westerville to immediately adjust the work environment of all Westerville city offices by setting your air conditioning thermostat to 78 degrees during the day and 85 degrees after hours.

If our government expects residents to cut back on energy usage in their homes, I think the city should set the example and start first.

Think of how much this could save Westerville residents, if the city would start practicing the "green" practices they wish to foist on us!

I attended the Westerville City Council meeting on July 6, to speak out against the smart meters and noticed it felt much cooler than my home.

Another person who attended the council meeting said he looked at the thermostat and the air conditioning was set at 73 degrees. I personally find it hypocritical that our government expects consumers to use less energy when they themselves are energy hogs.

A July 15, 2010, letter I received from Mike Heyeck, Chair of Westerville City Council, states, "The federal grant pays 50 percent of project costs and is not designated to cover specific components of the project."

While I personally still don't have a clear understanding of the total costs of everything surrounding the smart meter project and related electric infrastructure updates required to support them, this means that at least $4.3-million is going to have to be paid by Westerville residents since the federal stimulus money grant only covers $4.3-million. However, I have read about other costs related to upgrading the electric infrastructure to support the Westerville smart grid of $10.7-million.

Whatever the amount, I have concerns about Westerville spending money on a project that is not absolutely necessary, during a recession that has no end in sight.

These are all costs that will ultimately be paid by Westerville residents when there are no guaranteed savings promised by installing the smart meters.

Since smart meters are controversial and have the potential to seriously impact our lives, the only fair thing to do is to allow Westerville residents to decide if they want them by either making them optional or allowing us to vote on them.


Petra Hinterschied

Westerville