Higher water bills for some

Some Vandalia residents may see their water bills increase in the future, even without increased water usage or rate hikes by the city.
That’s because the city is looking at purchasing new water meters.
The city council will likely vote on the purchase of new meters in the near future, acting on a recommendation from its water and sewer committee.
In recent weeks, the committee has been meeting with Public Works Director Marlin Filer and members of his staff to talk about the issue.
Filer brought up the idea of buying new water meters, both to cut down on his department’s labor costs and to better account for water produced by the city.
A majority of the current meters are 30 or 40 years old, Filer said, and some of them are 50 or 60 years old.
In his research, Filer found that to replace the existing meters, the city had two options – positive displacement meters, which have moving parts; or SMART meters, which have no moving parts, and carry a full-replacement guarantee for 10 years and an accuracy guarantee for 20 years.
“We’ve done a lot of research, and we feel that Census (SMART meters) is the way to go,” Filer said.
The estimated cost for the positive displacement meters is slightly less than $500,000, and the SMART meters would cost about $625,000.
Fayette Water has agreed to install the new meters for the city at a cost of $35 per meter. The city has about 2,600 meters, Filer said.
One advantage of the SMART meters is that they would provide accurate readings of water use, which means that the city would be seeing additional revenue.
Some residents would see their bills increase, according to James Jackson of the public works department.
“Their bills would go up, not because of usage, but because there’s a better accounting of the water used,” Jackson said.
The new meters “show the usage by the hour up to 45 days. We would never have to estimate usage again, plus the city would be getting paid for the water we’re not getting paid for now.”
As part of the department’s research on new meters, Jackson visited the Anna Water Department to see the SMART meters system in action.
What he saw is that a water department employee read meters from his truck.
“He read 80 meters without moving the truck, and read 500 meters an hour,” Jackson said. The reading goes directly into a laptop computer, and the information can be downloaded from the laptop.
Currently, Filer said, the city has one public works employee dedicated full-time to reading water meters.
During winter months, he said, the meter reader has to estimate readings, “which throws everything out of whack,” he said.
Last year, he said, the city had a loss of about 14 percent, or about $20,000 a month, because it is unable to get accurate meter readings.
Purchasing meters with non-moving parts, Filer said, “Costs more money, but in the long run it’s not.
“With the extra revenue, plus the labor savings, it wouldn’t take long to pay for a system,” he said.
Mayor Rick Gottman supported the purchase of the new meters, saying that it will keep the city from replacing a retiring employee with someone whose full-time job would be reading meters.
That employee would be paid a little less than $73,000, plus benefits, Gottman said.
Alderman B. John Clark also endorsed the purchase.
“It looks to me like a no-brainer,” Clark said.

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