The Ashland City Council has approved an opt-out option for residents who don't want radio frequency wave-emitting utility meters at their homes — and they won't be charged hefty fees for their decision.

The Ashland City Council has approved an opt-out option for residents who don't want radio frequency wave-emitting utility meters at their homes — and they won't be charged hefty fees for their decision.

The council adopted the opt-out policy on Tuesday night and directed city staff not to charge proposed fees of $120 to opt out, plus $20 each month during the time a home doesn't have a so-called "smart meter."

Smart meters send out signals that allow utility workers to read meters from the street, rather than going onto people's property.

They save the city government time and money, but some residents are concerned that smart meters emit radiation that potentially could have negative health consequences.

Communities across the nation are dealing with concerns about smart meters, even as the meters promise to help manage electric loads and control electricity costs.

Studies about radio frequency wave impacts have been mixed and more research is needed, according to many scientists and government agencies.

With so much uncertainty, Councilor Dennis Slattery said it's better to ere on the side of caution and let residents make their own decisions about whether they want smart meters.

"I believe prudence is a good idea and we are a health-conscious community," Slattery said.

About 45 percent of Ashland homes already have smart meters, said Administrative Services and Finance Director Lee Tuneberg.

The city began installing the devices about a decade ago. Without them, the city would likely have to hire another meter reader and buy extra equipment. Smart meters also help utility billing staff members handle bills more efficiently, Tuneberg said.

The city is no longer actively pursuing the installation of smart meters because of community concerns, he said.

Echoing the views of some residents, Slattery said he would rather hire another person to read meters than seek to cut costs via smart meters.

Slattery and Councilors Carol Voisin and Mike Morris voted to create the opt-out policy and not charge fees.

Councilors Russ Silbiger and David Chapman voted against the move.

Silbiger previously said there are no health problems plausibly related to smart meters, and people get more radiation from common devices such as laptop computers and wireless Internet routers.

More than a dozen residents came to the council's Tuesday night meeting to advocate adoption of an opt-out policy without fees.

Ashland resident Pamela Joy said there is no evidence that smart meters are safe. She said she chooses not to use wireless Internet, cell phones or a microwave, and wants to be able to choose whether her home has a smart meter.

Joy said while she understands that the city government is trying to save money, it could cost more in the future if health problems from smart meters are proven and people sue the city.

"To choose money over health is insanity. The question of safety needs to be answered first," she said.

Even with smart meters already in use, the city is anticipating a 5 percent electric rate increase in October to deal with rising expenses, including higher personnel costs and wholesale electricity rates from the Bonneville Power Administration, according to the city's budget document for the fiscal year that starts on July 1.

The council would have to approve that electric rate increase, which would come on top of 12.7 percent water rate increases and 10 percent sewer bill increases already approved and set to take effect on June 22.

Staff reporter Vickie Aldous can be reached at 541-479-8199 or vlaldous@yahoo.com.