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City Council OKs $7 million for new water meters

By Amanda Raymond

amanda.raymond@salisburypost.com

Salisbury-Rowan Utilities has plans to replace more than 19,000 water meters around Rowan County.

During the Salisbury City Council meeting on Tuesday, the council heard a presentation about Salisbury-Rowan Utilities’ Return-On-Investment Analysis for their Advanced Metering Infrastructure Implementation Plan.

The council approved the adoption of a $7.2 million Capital Project Ordinance for the project.

As part of the project, Salisbury-Rowan Utilities (SRU) plans to replace about 19,627 water meters ranging from three fourths to eight inches.

According to documents provided by SRU, the ordinance would cover an estimated $5 million for the new meters and associated cellular endpoints, an estimated $1 million for a qualified contractor and an anticipated $790,500 needed to replace some existing accessories, including meter boxes, meter box lids, meter setters and service lines. The anticipated cost for the full-scale implementation would be about $7,158,429.

SRU would replace the meters over a two-year period, which would include three fiscal years. The $7.2 million would come from unrestricted capital reserve funds.

The water meters that most of the county uses right now need to be replaced on a 14-year cycle to ensure accurate billing. The current average meter age is 15 years, with some meters more than 45 years old. Because of all of the moving parts included in mechanical meters, they wear out and lead to inaccurate meter readings and, therefore, inaccurate billings.

The current meters also require SRU employees to drive around and read meters manually.

With the new automated meter reading and advanced metering infrastructure, the meter life cycle would increase to 20 years and because there are no moving parts that could wear out, the meters will maintain high accuracy.

The increased accuracy would mean a short-term revenue increase for SRU and higher bills for customers.

Council member David Post was concerned that some citizens might question higher water bills.

“I just don’t want anybody to be surprised if their bill goes up because we just spent $7 million of public money,” Post said.

SRU staff said the new meters would ensure that water bills are fair and equitable.

SRU will have daily information from water meters so that customers can be contacted more quickly if problems arise, such as potential leaks on the property. And customers will be able to track their water usage online, including information about when they use the most water on a monthly, daily or even hourly basis.

Mayor Karen Alexander said businesses and individuals will be able to save money by using that information to cut down on water usage.

“I see it as being a really wonderful management tool for not only our businesses, but our individual people, which all of us are going to benefit from conservation of our water,” Alexander said.

Some other benefits of the new system include a decrease in the volume of treated water that is lost through leaks and the elimination of factors that can impact meter-reading schedules, such as bad weather or staff illness.

SRU staff would be reduced because of the automated system. SRU anticipates some positions being eliminated, while others will take on different roles to process the information coming in from the Advance Metering Analytics system.

“We foresee a few retirements and our goal is not to lay off our employees,” Jim Behmer, director of SRU, said.

SRU piloted the project in China Grove and found it to be successful. It has already started replacing some of the larger meters.

The predicted payback period was predicted to take a little more than eight years, which Behmer said was a conservative estimate.

The council approved the adoption of the ordinance unanimously.

Behmer said the public will be notified once the mass meter changes begin.

Contact reporter Amanda Raymond at 704-797-4222.

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