By COLE REIF
Great Bend Post
Reading water meters at a fast enough pace to read the entire City of Great Bend within the billing cycle leads to errors in data entry, which in turn leads to re-reads and billing errors.
An analysis of meter reads since April 2018, shows the average monthly billing estimations to be 17%, which equates to approximately 1,037 estimations. To combat the estimations battle, Great Bend added a second position to read meters in March 2019.
Administrator Kendal Francis says the meter reader position is a stressful job
that requires working in the elements for low pay. The workers are expected to
read a meter every three minutes to keep up with the billing cycle. The city
has gone through eight different meter readers over the last two years.
"The time invested in training employees is costly and it forces us to pull other individuals off projects so they can train and be backup meter readers," said Francis. "Hiring and training new meter readers is a constant battle for us. The answer to this, in my opinion, is technology."
Francis suggested an Automated Meter Reading system that records the usage and sends the readings via radio waves to a collector and computer system mounted in a vehicle. By driving around town, the entire town could be read in less than one day with no estimations.
The cost of the new system is roughly $2.1 million, which was close to the amount the city is expected to receive from the next COVID-19 federal stimulus payment, or American Rescue Plan.
Last month, the majority of the governing body
was in favor of splitting the ARP funds to invest in an incentive for downtown
business owners to renovate second floors into livable loft space. Great Bend
has been preparing for an application to the Kansas Public Water Supply Loan
Fund for a 20-year term, fixed interest rate loan to cover the remaining $1
million needed. The fixed interest rate for the loan, as of March, was 1.3 percent.
"We increased rates with this type of capital expenditure in mind," said Francis. "These were the type of infrastructure improvements that we had in mind when we did that rate service study. All the late, deferred maintenance on water and sewer we did not have funds for because we had not been charging enough all along."
Water rates in Great Bend saw a 22% increase in October 2020, in part, to establish reserves for these projects.
The Great Bend City Council voted 4-3 to move forward with the Automated Meter Reading project and set a public hearing for June 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Events Center.
Listen below to the entire discussion on Automated Meter Reading (AMR) from the May 3, 2021 meeting.