By PAUL STONE
Hoping to reduce the number of estimated accounts, the Palestine City Council on Monday approved the hiring of a part-time water meter reader.
Greg Laudadio, the city’s assistant finance director, told council members Monday that there are approximately 8,000 meters citywide, with roughly 2,000 on each of the city’s four monthly billing cycles.
Approximately 20 to 25 percent of the city’s water meters are “estimated” by city employees each billing cycle, he further explained.
Some accounts are estimated more than others, he stated.
In the past six months, Laudadio said slightly more than 1,000 customers had had their accounts estimated all six times during that span.
Estimates are based on “past usage” and historical patterns, according to Palestine City Manager Mike Ohrt.
What sometimes happens is a water customer whose account is actually read by a meter reader after a period of estimates can see their monthly water bill “spike” by a large amount in a single month, city officials say.
On Monday, the council approved that $11,388 of an approximately $40,000 line item dedicated to replacing some of the city meters be utilized to pay the salary of a part-time employee solely dedicated to reading meters.
“You’ll have real reads where a meter reader has put his eyes on the dials” for all our customers, Laudadio said.
The assistant finance director added, “We have also identified a vehicle” to be used by the part-time employee.
Water meters more than 10 years old and associated transponders are combining to cause many of the city’s meter woes.
“In theory, our guy drives down the road and all these transponders are consistently emitting their signals...and we get everybody’s meter (read) in a short period of time,” Ohrt said. “Now they’re (the meters) over 10 years old and we’re experiencing more and more failures with the transponders themselves.”
After a meter reader works an area, a report is run, showing which accounts were not read during the process, Ohrt said.
Since the city’s two current meter readers have other responsibilities, including working service orders, connects and disconnects, most of the missed meters are currently being estimated, according to Monday’s discussion.
“If we’re not going to have estimates, we have to slack off on service orders,” said Ohrt, pointing out the current meter readers’ multiple duties. “They’ll read as many as they can.”
Laudadio described the addition of a part-time meter reader as an “inexpensive, short-term” and “temporary fix,” and officials say the city’s 8,000 water meters will need to be replaced in the foreseeable future.
The city has commissioned Trane to perform a study designed to identify the ideal water meter for Palestine.
“They are analyzing the meters we have in the ground and our electronics read system,” Ohrt said.
Ultimately, Trane will make a recommendation as to “what is the best meter the City of Palestine should be using, all things considered.”
The city manager estimated replacing all the city’s water meters would likely cost somewhere between $3 and $5 million.
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