I think this might be my most anticipated blog post ever. While I was on a family vacation in Florida, I mentioned on Facebook that I would provide some information about the meter replacement project. There are a lot of questions that I’m going to try and address using this forum, but if you have questions and want additional information, please reach out. I promise we will try to get as much information about projects out to the public in as many ways, traditional and non-traditional that we can think of. As always, I can most easily be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at 507-593-8312; now onto City business.
“Why are we doing this again; Didn’t we just do this?”
The past meter replacement project consisted of replacing all water and electric meters to a network that is read by having someone driving around town monthly and collect data from a vehicle. Some meters aren’t read, and those require manual reading from the staff meter reader. Some may not know that the meter rollout project that finished up in 2017 took SIX YEARS to complete. The major problem with the time it took to complete this project is there are now three different types of water meters out in use and managing that network of meters is difficult and takes A LOT of staff time. The new meter network consists of an “Advanced Metering Infrastructure” or AMI system that allows for the meters to be connected to a network at all times, similar to the way you have multiple devices in your house or work connected to the WiFi network that talks to the internet, but on a much larger scale. Having an AMI network will allow for staff to provide better customer support when someone has a question about their usage. The current model requires a customer to wait up to 30 plus days to be notified that there may be a problem at their property regarding their water or electric usage. The new AMI network will allow people to better monitor their resource consumption and address issues in a more timely and cost-effective manner. Also, planning for the future, deploying an AMI network will allow the City to transition to “Time of Use” billing for all customers which allow customers to adapt habits of use to use resources more efficiently. This time of use model can be used for electric, water, and wastewater billing. What this means is that if a customer uses the resource when it is cheaper for the City to provide that service, the resident will see those savings.
Are the old meters faulty or defective?
The answer to this is a very clear “NO.” The way the bid package worked for the new meter system is that the vendor has the rights to the old meters, which they will likely recycle in other cities, which provided us a reduction in cost for these meters to be installed. The City Council passed a water meter testing policy for anyone questioning if their meter is overcharging you for consumption of water. Electric meters have a different warranty period and testing process due to the way they work and how different flows of electricity can affect the computing system. To date, there has never been a meter that has been disputed to be over-charging a customer. Essentially the way meters work is that they are within a threshold of accuracy when they are first installed, then they slowly start losing that accuracy in a manner that goes down, so they err on the side of the customer. The Rural Water Association recommends replacing meters every seven years. The meters that were purchased have a 15-year warranty, and if they fall out of the initial accuracy threshold, they will be replaced at no cost. So in short, these meters will be in use for 15 years.
What is the timeline for replacement?
Things will start moving reasonably quickly once spring arrives. The meter replacement project has a projected completion date of November 1st. This means that the majority of customers will have their meters installed by that date. There will be multiple ways dedicated to scheduling the installation of the water meters, which will be at no out of pocket cost for the customer. The electric meters will also be scheduled as well, but typically, access to electric meters does not require access inside the dwelling; this will also have no out of pocket cost. There is no way to “opt out” of this replacement project as it is required and directed by the City Council.
How much do these meters cost, and do I have to pay for it?
The standard 5/8” water meter has a per unit cost of $188.69, and the standard electric meter has a per unit cost of $165.00. These per unit costs also include installation. This means the typical residential meter replacement will average out to just under $2 per month over the life of the meter. This cost is rolled into the current rates, so there is no out of pocket cost to the customers.
Why is this a priority and how did we get here?
This meter replacement project was conceived early in 2018 by City Staff. The concept was discussed at most all of the Personnel and Budget Committee Meetings leading up to the adoption of the 2019 budget by City Council. The meter replacement program is also included in the adopted 2019 – 2023 Capital Improvement and Capital Equipment Plan. City Council engaged in a discussion about this project on January 28, 2019, to authorize staff to advertise for bids and on February 25, 2019, City Council approved the bids and authorized the funding of this project through a capital lease. At a minimum, there where eight public meetings where this was discussed as part of the budget process or talked about explicitly by City Council.
Now, there are always ways to better get information out to the public, and we try to do so using many forums. Staff has conferred how we can get in front of discussions occurring after something is approved, and in general, staff needs to get the public motivated to engage in the process while it’s happening and not after it’s happened. This is a common struggle in local government, but we have some ideas that we will try for projects that need to be discussed. One coming up is the discussion about the potential opening of Main Street between Bridge Street and Ferry Street. It is essential that the public engages in this discussion as this will have a permanent impact on the community on many levels.
I believe with the implementation of an AMI network for water and electric meters, and the rollout of a more efficient utility billing software, there will be revenue increases related to this project. The extent of those revenue increases related to a more efficient system is unknown but may be substantial. If this is the case, utility rates will reflect a downward trend due to efficiencies gained. This is the ultimate goal of City Staff; we need to make sure our utility rates are at a level that is acceptable for positive commercial, industrial, and residential growth. Right now we are close on most fronts, but wastewater will take some time to get to where it should be.
I am calling for residents, neighbors, or anyone with interest in the community to engage in the process. Staff will try and do better to provide information in new ways to the city to solicit and facilitate engagement. I hope more residents answer the call and get involved.