City water customers should expect an increase in their water bills after automated meter reading (AMR) equipment is installed even if the new register matches the meter size, a Department of Watershed Management spokesman told Neighborhood Planning Unit A on April 7.

Ben Jacob explained that the spinning propeller in a water meter wears out with age so that it doesn’t turn as much as it should in response to the water flow. The result is that meters record less water use than they should.

The equipment installed as part of the move to automate meter reading replaces the worn parts and thus ends underreading.

“We believe the new meters are more accurate than the old meters in general,” Jacob said. They are unlikely to overread water use — unless, as happened with thousands of customers, the contractor installed 3/4-inch dials on 5/8-inch meters.

People who see huge jumps in their billed water use with the AMR equipment should contact customer service at the Department of Watershed Management. But Jacob said smaller increases likely reflect reality.

Jacob also told NPU-A about the new late-fee policy: Instead of charging 5 percent of the overdue amount, the department will charge $5 or 5 percent, whichever is greater.

“What do we get when you’re overcharging us?” one board member asked. Jacob said that was a good question, but he had no answer.

— Michael Jacobs