It has been almost three years since the widespread failures of water meters was brought public. Meter read failures had most probably been occurring for many years previous to that. Meter read failures are truly a two sided sword. They cut revenues while demanding additional revenues to fund meter replacement.
Approximately two years ago efforts were undertaken to address meter failures, a consultant was hired, the meter supplier provided financial and technical assistance, new towers/technology was added, and approximately 6500 meter replaced. The City of Port Orange ratepayers invested considerable resources in this effort.
About a month ago, after council inquiry it was reported that there was still a backlog of non-functioning meters, estimated at about 1,000. More telling was the finding that there had been no discernable increase in revenues that could be related to replacement of no-read meters. This may suggest that in- ground meters are failing at a rate similar to our replacement rate. This situation raises a series of important questions (most of which have been asked recently by Mr. Woodman in a very thoughtful piece on Port-Orange.us).
At what rate are meters continuing to fail? It has been suggested that it may be in the range of 50-100 a week. If that is not accurate, what would be the number?
How many meters have been replaced? (6500?). How many meters do we have in total (how many water meters, how many reuse meters?)
Which meters are failing (sensus or nautilus)? How old are the meters that are failing? Are any recently installed meters failing? Are meters under warranty failing?
What is failing on the meters – the base unit or the sending unit or both?
Can public utilities provide council a detailed analysis of the age, installation dates, make of base and or sending units and warranty status (warranty or non- warranty)?
This email is to give some advanced notice, that I will be asking these questions at the next council meeting. The answers to these questions could suggest some strategies to successfully address no-read meters. With decisions about water/sewer rate rates looming, it is important that council be able to make an informed decision. As you well noted, successful actions against no read meters could enhance revenues between 8% and 12%. A successful metering program could reduce significantly potential utility rate increases. I do appreciate your insights and staff assistance in answering these questions.
Best, Bob Ford
Bob: The focus over the past 18 to 24 months on the water metering issues have been on the Sensus warranty and non -warranty meters. That was completed at the end of 2013. We are now focusing on the zero reads or stopped meters. We are seeing some light at the end of the tunnel both from a meter reading efficiency as well as a slight decrease in our unaccounted for water. The meters that are “dieing” are the older Sensus meters (15 years and beyond). We have been installing Neptune brand meters since 2010 and these meters have performed. I have been repeatedly told the Sensus flex units have performed.
As Vice-Mayor Burnette said on Saturday this budget has a lot of moving parts. This is especially true as it relates to the water and sewer fund. I am going to recommend we workshop the water and sewer budget so we can develop a comprehensive strategic plan. As you know the capital budget drives in part the operating budget. We have open issues on several items. These include the status of the reclaim water system, nutrient loading challenges for the disposing of the wastewater during wet periods, impact on the rates if the Shores disconnects and last but not least is what level of investment do we need to make on the below ground distribution and collection systems. You are correct that if an aggressive water meter change-out program is accomplished this should result in increased revenues. This could mitigate some of the rate increase but we will need to spend considerable capital to accomplish the meter change-out program.