Baltimore’s spending panel voted Wednesday for an $81.3 million contract for installation of new electronic water meters for dwellings and buildings in the city and some in Baltimore County, where the city supplies water.
The vote by the Board of Estimates to grant Itron Inc. the contract for 400,000 new water meters was taken despite rigorous opposition from an attorney for the competing bidder, Dynis LLC.
Dynis claimed the procurement process was flawed and misleading. It sought a delay in the vote and the chance to revise its bid downward.
The board rejected those arguments and voted for the low bidder, with Comptroller Joan Pratt abstaining.
Another $2.1 million is expected to be requested in mid-2015 for software and hardware maintenance. That would make the total contract with Itron $83.5 million, board documents said.
City purchasing officials told the board that Itron, which is headquartered in Washington state, had pledged to stay within the costs of its $81.3 million contract in the meter and project implementation.
The new meters will be fitted into houses and commercial properties over the next 18 months and will allow water usage data from city properties, and part of the county, to be sent to City Hall for billing via a wireless connection.
Currently, most water usage is measured by meter readers who manually read and record the data. Over the past several years, consumers have bitterly complained of inflated and erroneous water bills sent by the city because of the aged meter system.
Water users with the electronic meters will be able to monitor their consumption by computer and view usage daily if they choose, said Rudy Chow, head of the Bureau of Water and Wastewater, a part of the Department of Public Works.
In addition, property owners will be encouraged to add an insurance policy to their water bills to cover any damage that could occur when the meters are installed and afterward — a cost of about $5 per month, Chow said.
The vote on the water meter contract followed months of speculation over the massive contract.
Dynis, a cellphone tower company based in Columbia, had submitted a bid for the meters that totaled $185 million.
The company is run by a prominent supporter of Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Earl Scott. Another Rawlings-Blake campaign contributor, J.P. Grant, whose Race On LLC took over the Baltimore Grand Prix until it was canceled through 2015, had proposed to help finance the Dynis deal.
The company had launched an aggressive campaign this week to attempt to persuade the Board of Estimates to delay the vote and allow Dynis to revise its bid and lower its bid price. It filed a protest with the board, allowing it to address the group in person.
Using a 17-page letter sent to the board on Tuesday outlining grievances Dynis held with Itron and its bid as a basis for the protest, attorney Paul S. Caiola, of Gallagher Evelius & Jones LLP, told the board there were “substantial flaws in the procurement” in requests for items such as pricing, technical functioning and costs for installation of commercial water meters. The city’s request for proposals for the new water meters was “unclear and confusing,” he said.
Dynis also hired Baltimore-based lobbying and public relations firm KO Public Affairs to push its appeal to the board, comprised of the mayor, City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, City Solicitor George Nilson, Board of Public Works Director Alfred Foxx and Pratt.
Rawlings-Blake said after the vote she was confident that the lower bid by Itron was the best one.
“It is my hope that our actions today will be another positive step in the right direction for bringing reliability and efficiency to our water billing system,” the mayor said.