New water meters will increase accuracy of readings, hike billsNew water meters being installed in Mitchell will more accurately measure the amount of water that residents use. That’s good news for the city, according to Public Works Department Deputy Director Terry Johnson. It will bring in more revenue and will allow the city to either drop a position or reassign one or two employees.
By: Tom Lawrence, The Daily Republic
New water meters being installed in Mitchell will more accurately measure the amount of water that residents use.
That’s good news for the city, according to Public Works Department Deputy Director Terry Johnson. It will bring in more revenue and will allow the city to either drop a position or reassign one or two employees.
Johnson said he believes the city will see $200,000 in new revenue by accurately measuring water use.
But it could mean higher water and sewer bills for people whose water use isn’t being measured correctly by aging meters.
Johnson said the new meters will be installed on 5,700 homes in the next five years. Right now, only about 250 are in place.
People don’t have an option on a meter, he said.
“If you get city water, you get to have the meter.”
The new meters are called Rockwell Meters with Sensus Smart Point Transmitters. They are replacing old Rockwell meters that have been measuring water use in Mitchell for decades. Some are 60 years old, Johnson said.
As they age, they don’t always correctly gauge the amount of water being used in homes, he said. That error is always too low, since the meters don’t record every time water is used, he said.
The city measures water by the gallon. A single unit is 750 gallons, and residents are charged $2.70 for that, according to Cathy Krall, city utility billing clerk.
Krall said an average home with two adults and two children uses about 10 units per month, resulting in a bill of $27 just for water usage.
However, bills fluctuate based on the meter reading, she said. Some people get upset when their bill fluctuates, Krall said, but all she can do is trust the meters.
The modern meters are being read by hand-held devices while older meters are still read by two meter readers who go into yards and basements to check the number.
“We have people who get bit by dogs,” Johnson said. “And reading them in the winter — last winter, when we had all that snow, we had a heck of a time.”
So far, the new meters are being placed in “troubled areas” where meter readers have to deal with dogs and other hazards. But eventually, everyone will have the more accurate meters, Johnson said.
City staffers can read the new meters with the hand-held devices from a quarter-mile away, he said. By next year, when the new city water tower is erected by Interstate 90, the process will become even simpler and more accurate.
A meter-reading device called a FlexNet will be placed atop the tower, and it will be able to read all meters in the city. The information will be sent directly to Krall’s computer so billing can be completed easier and faster.
If customers have a complaint, Krall will be able to show them how much water was used and when it was used in the home. That should reduce complaints, she said.
In addition to improving accuracy and streamlining the billing process, the new system will alert the city if water is constantly running in a home. A notice can be sent out to the resident to correct the problem or ask for city assistance.
The city will also be able to shut off water when a customer gets too far behind on their bill. A simple flip of the switch will shut off water, and once the bill is paid, a city employee will have to come in the house and reset the meter, Johnson said.
The new system will be the first in the state for a municipality, he said. Its total cost will be $1.2 million and will be paid for with city funds and grants.
Public Works Director Tim McGannon told the City Council recently that these changes will allow the city to reduce its employee roster by one or two.
Johnson said that’s possible, but he noted that the two meter readers now help in other areas and work on water main breaks.
“We have plenty of work for them to do,” he said.