City seeks federal funds for meters
HOUSTON – A major expenditure to upgrade the city’s water meters will be discussed at a meeting set for City Hall next week.
The Houston Board of Aldermen is seeking funds through the U.S. Department of Agriculture to purchase electronic water meters that would replace the city’s aging mechanical meters, make reading residential water bills more efficient and improve accuracy.
The upgrade has an estimated price tag of $400,000 to purchase, approximately 1,800 meters, electronic meter reading equipment and computer software. The city has also discussed expanding the project to finance an upgrade to a city water well. A public hearing to gather public comment on the economic and environmental impact of the change and define the area to be served will be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Dec. 10, at City Hall.
“The city has discussed this and this meeting is to inform the public we are applying for funding,” said City Clerk Janie Dendy. “This is the process you have to go through to get the money from USDA.”
At an October workshop to discuss the issue with aldermen, Houston Mayor Stacey Parker pointed out the grant the city is seeking is a 45/55 matching grant with the city expected to pay 45-percent and the USDA paying 55-percent.
The city has received a bid of $390,000 from Empire Pipe to sell and install the meters. Repairing the city’s Washington Street water well could cost between $80,000 and $100,000.
Aldermen have not voted to proceed on either of these projects.
Houston’s municipal water department is a major revenue stream for the city.
Houston pumps approximately one million gallons to city customers a month and that raises approximately $37,000. City leaders have repeatedly said they expect water bills to go up when the new meters go on-line as the city gets a more accurate reading.
The new electronic meters can read down to the quart, where the older meters – especially for industrial clients, schools and churches – can be off thousands of gallons a month.
The city has been told the new meters will allow one person to drive a computer equipped truck down city streets and read all meters in one day. Aldermen were approached last year by a vendor who said the new meters have a 20-year-warranty and installation would take about three months.
Aldermen have repeatedly sought ways to make meter reading more accurate and lower personnel costs.
It normally takes 10 to 15 days for a meter-reader to manually read the city’s meter. That data then must be entered on city computers to calculate water usage and a bill.
The quickness and ease of reading water usage can help the city determine peak water usage times and what parts of the community have special water usage needs. The instant reading can also help pinpoint leaks on both streets and private property.
Verona, Hamilton, West Point, Greenwood, Gulfport and Winona have all gone to electronic water meters.
The city has embarked on a number of water and sewer upgrades over the past three years including a complete mapping and survey of water mains and sewer lines, renovating the city water tower, installing new valves and pipe downtown and installing new sewer lines in north Houston last year.
Having customers approach the board with water bill concerns is a regular agenda item for the city and the board has a policy of not changing water bills. The city does send someone out to double check a reading and will change a meter if the customer feels it is not reading correctly.
Two years ago Okolona residents were surprised when they got city water bills of $300 and $400 for one month after city employees there had been miss-reading or not reading water meter there for some time.
Like Houston, Okolona aldermen are regularly approached by customers seeking answers for high water bills and wanting the city to reduce their bill.
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