It's All About Water: Infrastructure Is The Lifeblood Of Every City
By Hallandale Beach Mayor, Joy Cooper
February 2, 2023
For many years cities around the country have been upgrading water meters to Advanced Metering Infrastructure. The old system required meter readers to physically go out and read each meter. While this worked the readings were delivered and processed by the billing department all manually. There was no real time information and bills were adjusted after reading. This created lags in the system and if there were any issues that customers needed addressed took much longer to address. The AMI was considered a true benefit and we decided to upgrade our system many years ago.
AMI provides a system where the meters are upgraded to electronic and then integrated into the billing system. The registers are like an odometer. The water flows through the register and a battery-operated radio transmitter creates a reading. It then electronically transmits the reading to the utility. This process has been working and created efficiencies on many levels.
In our case last year some of the batteries began failing. When we were first briefed on this matter I had asked if we have any legal recourse since the meters are to have a much longer life than a couple of years. We were informed that we were not the only city that had the same problems and I wanted our attorney to research it. After researching our contract, we found they were still under warranty and the company was going to work with the impacted cities. This was good news until staff realized due to supply chain issues the company had a large backlog.
The register batteries were not the only problem. Many meters were placed on properties in a manor where they were not able to transmit to the utility. Some meters were under water or covered with dirt. City Manager Dr. Earle established a cross-departmental team to address this issue. It included Public Works, Finance and Sensus - the tech vendor. The team reviewed all issues and presented a report to us in December.
It was confirmed that due to the magnitude of the failures we were not billing for a large amount of consumption, that is due to system limitation. 1 out of 10 meters had to be manually read and 1 out of 4 bills are being estimated. In this case data is critical. Approximately 6,866 meters are being read. Unaccounted water creates multiple issues for the system and all users. Water loss is at 20%, double the target rate.
Currently Staff have replaced 500 meters provided by Sensus and since have gone to another vendor Core and Main to address the inability to acquire replacements in a timely manner from Sensus. The Core plus and main meters are superior to the old meters and can be integrated into the system. The software upgrades will send real time alarms when meters are not reading or disconnected illegally. The working group has set out to complete the system over the course of 2023.
The other component of the system is billing systems. It was found that due to the current staffing level and utilization of finance personnel that mainly work with customers for meter and billing a reorganization was warranted. A meter maintenance coordinator was added and a specific utility billing supervisor. The cost of these added employees will be allocated to the Utility Fund. In addition there will be the addition of temporary staffing for the fiscal year to address customer demand while staff is implementing the remediation project.
This remediation project is critical as it relates to our fee structures. Without true readings and use there will not be a fair allocation of costs for our Utility Bond. While the cost to perform these repairs and reorganization will run $689,100, $140,000 for field audits, $300,000 for temporary staffing, $276,000 in water meter purchases and $140,000 for staff reorganization and classifications, in the long run the recapture of unbilled water revenues will offset the costs. The long-term projected water revenues are projected to be $648,000. This does not include staff time and efficiencies created.
There is an even larger picture when it comes to every improvement we bring. As I have written recently about the cost of underground infrastructure we continue to work with our bond consultant. The more accurate accounting of water will help us evaluate a fair rate structure for our customers. Water is also tied to our wastewater. The more accurate our data, the more accurate we can evaluate our sewer costs to address infiltration and water losses throughout the system. It will also help us to budget for sewer payments.
As the City embarks on large scale Infrastructure Projects which will impact on everyone’s budgets, I want to let our residents and condo boards know that I am always available to come out and discuss this issue and other City Business with your group or board.
As always, I am available for your questions, concerns, and ideas to help make our city a better place. Please feel free to reach out to me at My Office: (954) 457-1318. On My Cell/Text at: (954) 632-5700. Or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org