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Carolina Beach Meter Replacement May Increase Water Bill Totals

The Town of Carolina Beach is preparing to replace older water meters and install a remote system that allows meter readings to be reported to Town Hall electronically...

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CAROLINA BEACH - The Town of Carolina Beach is preparing to replace older water meters and install a remote system that allows meter readings to be reported to Town Hall electronically rather than taken manually by personnel walking the streets.
Town officials anticipate the new meters and reporting system will improve accuracy and efficiency. Customers with meters that have not been reporting accurately will see their monthly water and sewer charges go up. Older meters often give inaccurate readings.
During the Council's February 19, meeting the Council was informed of an opportunity to obtain a zero interest loan from the State Public Water Supply Branch of the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources to cover a portion of the estimated $1.3 to $1.5 million dollar project.
The Carolina Beach Town Council approved resolutions to finance a plan up to $1.3 million dollars to create a fixed network of remotely monitored water meters for commercial and residential customers at their January 15, meeting.
The plan would essentially create a town-wide network allowing the billing department to monitor and log water use.
A draft "request for proposals" was presented to the Council in January. According to that document the Town is seeking a "Fixed Network Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) System" that will work with most major water meters, with an expected reading accuracy of 98% or more for all meters in the system.
The draft request states, "The Town of Carolina Beach will not consider Drive-by or migratable (Drive-by migrating to Fixed Network) systems, or the installation of technology that has not been field tested. Vendor experience should include solutions that have been available for over 10 years and with over 100 deployments."
When the project is completed, the Town of Carolina Beach would own and operate a functional and upgradeable Fixed Network AMI System capable of utilizing several types of meters and meter manufacturers. The system would have to be compatible with multiple types of meters.
The Town wants a Fixed Network consisting of a series of data collector units (DCU) located strategically throughout the Town.
According to the draft request for proposals, "The locations shall be determined by the Fixed Network AMI System vendor as part of the bid. The DCU units will be powered using either AC/battery or solar/battery to retrieve meter readings and relay them to a centralized location at Town of Carolina Beach Utility Department Offices. The DCU units, as well as the corresponding meter transmission units (MTU), must operate on a licensed [radio] frequency that is the exclusive property of the Town of Carolina Beach."
Another requirement states, "All Fixed Network AMI retrieved meter readings will be in a format compatible with the vendor supplied software for the Fixed Network system. The software will prepare and format the meter reading data for the printing of selected management reports and the transfer of the meter reading data to the billing software for customer invoicing."
The draft request for proposals also calls for leak detection, flagging large usage, numerous accounting features and tamper alarms.
During the Council's January 15, meeting Public Utilities Director Gene Gurganious explained, "At the last meeting we determined we had to do a resolution for reimbursement for any funds spent for the fixed network system prior to getting financing for it."
The Council approved that resolution up to an amount of $1.3 million dollars.
The Council also adopted a resolution authorizing financing of the proposed system.
Gurganious said the next step is to finalize a "request for proposals" to solicit bids from companies to install the system.
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said it could potentially be 4,000 meters although some meters are newer than others.
Gurganious said new meters recently installed are compatible with the new fixed network systems currently available. Older meters will have to be replaced.
Once the Request for Proposals is finalized, the Town will follow a bid process and award a bid to a contractor. Then the Town will have to seek approval from the State Treasurer's Local Government Commission to finance the project.
At the Council's February 19, meeting Mayor Bob Lewis explained, "We're talking about installing these electronic meters that we think are going to be self funded in the end by the money we are saving on accurate meter reading and increases in revenue that maybe we had lost because meters aren't successfully reading everything. That should make up for the investment we make in electronics."
He explained, "We also have the advantage of leveraging labor that goes out and reads every meter today... every 4,500 properties each month and utilize those individuals to do some other things to actually improve the water system rather than just reading meters. There's a couple of advantages to this thing its not just spending money."
Interim Town Manager Bruce Shell said, "The rule of thumb is if you have meters older than ten years, meters are not always accurate meaning they don't always read what's going through them. So you don't have inconsistency issues that will be corrected."
Councilman Steve Shuttleworth said, "As we move forward with that, I would just like us to be proactive with communicating with our residents as we start to look towards... putting those in that we let people know [they] might see a modification to their bill based on the fact that we have an accurate" reading.
He said, "We are not raising the rate, but there is good likelihood that a lot of people will get a bigger bill. The first thing that will happen is they're going to call you Bob, complaining their bill went up. Which, you can blame me, which I can understand, I'm use to that."
Shuttleworth said, "These meters that we tested, we had 19 meters. We installed half of them and we saw a million gallons of new water calculations in a 90 or 120-day period. So we captured a million gallons that hadn't been" previously recorded by the older meters.
He said, "When we get to the point of putting these things in we need to let our residents know that just because your bill went up doesn’t mean we raised the rate."
Council member Sarah Friede said, "People have gotten a lot of water over the years for free from the Town. Not everybody, but some certainly have."
On Tuesday February 26, Interim Manager Bruce Shell said the final Request for Proposals is complete. Ten large meters serving commercial multi-family buildings will be replaced starting next week.
The smaller residential meters will be installed as part of the larger project.
Shell said the Town will have to visit the Local Government Commission in Raleigh to present the plan and seek approval. He hopes that meeting will take place as soon as April. After approval from the commission, bids can be accepted and public hearings have to be held by the Town Council before moving forward.
The Council voted at their February 19, meeting to apply for the zero interest loan from the State Public Water Supply Branch to help fund the project although no set amount has been decided upon.