Water meters will be replaced

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, October 3, 2007

AHOSKIE – An upgrade to Ahoskie system’s of water meters sparked a debate prior to its approval here Tuesday morning.

At a meeting of the Town Council, Ahoskie’s elected leaders learned of a proposal that called for the replacement of the town’s 2,137 water meters with automated devices.

Prior to the council’s debate over the issue, Town Manager Tony Hammond said that the town’s Public Works Department had been evaluating the current meter reading system over the last three months. Hammond said that evaluation determined the need for a system-wide upgrade, one capable of increasing meter-reading accuracy that could possibly generate an estimated $60,000 annually.

Additionally, Hammond said an automated meter reading system would save man-hours over the currently used process of manually reading the meters. It was reported at Tuesday’s meeting that it takes two Public Works employees eight to nine days to manually read all the meters.

“Ultimately, we will eliminate one employee position if we decide to use this new meter-reading system,” Hammond said. “That person will not be fired. One of the two employees currently performing this task will retire next year and we will not fill that position.”

Counting the elimination of one employee, the cost of replacing failing equipment and the increased accuracy of the new meters, Hammond said the town could expect an annual savings of $106,000 by switching to the automated system.

“We went looking for an automated system that would improve accuracy and was cost-effective,” Hammond said.

His suggestion was Triton Water Technologies (TWT), a Florida based company. The price tag for the project was listed at $595,000. Hammond said that amount, funded through a tax-exempt lease/purchase agreement, was payable in 10 annual payments of $76,000.

For that money, TWT would install the metering equipment, provide project management, financing and electronic transfer of the billing data.

Once installed, the process of reading the water meters can be completed in about four hours. The new water meters transmit data through radio waves received in a hand-held unit used by a Public Works employee.

Ahoskie Public Works Director Kirk Rogers said the new meters could help identify water leaks in the system.

“We have fixed a lot of our leaks, but we’re still losing water which means we’re losing revenue,” Rogers said.

Rogers said during the month of July, 23 million gallons of water was pumped from Ahoskie’s wells, but only 14 million gallons was billed to the town’s water customers.

“Our cost for this new system will not outweigh the benefits we will receive,” Rogers said. “The meters will provide more accurate readings, especially with the commercial size water meters.”

Town Councilman Ronald Gatling wanted to know if the town would raise the fee on checking water meters, now priced at $15 per visit.

“I will not vote for any more increases on our citizens,” Gatling said. “We already tax them to death.”

After receiving confirmation from Hammond that the fee would remain the same, Gatling inquired about the debt service the town would have to absorb if the council voted to have this new system installed.

“I think this system is great and it sounds like it’s needed, but I’m concerned if the town is over-extending itself in current debt service payments not to mention our upcoming Wastewater Treatment expansion project and new police station,” Gatling said.

After a brief interlude as Town Clerk Evelyn Howard stepped away from the meeting to obtain the current debt service payments, it was reported that the town will free-up $147,000 in payments over the next one to two years.

“Evelyn and I have studied this very closely and we have no problems with the debt service the town will incur with the new water meter system,” Hammond said.

On a motion by Malcolm Copeland, the council unanimously approved to enter into a contract with TWT for the automated water meter system.

The new system could be in place by as early as December.