MIDLOTHIAN—When the 2017/2018 fiscal year budget was approved last month, the Midlothian Public Works department got one step closer to undertaking a huge job that will improve the entire city.
According to Midlothian Budget Officer Tim McRoberts, there is 2.25 Million earmarked in the Utility Fund for a complete Meter Replacement program for the new year.
City of Midlothian Public Works Director Adam Mergener said that overhaul includes 5,200 residential meters, 230 commercial accounts and additional meters for new customers.
The replacement program will include new meter boxes and lids where needed.
Midlothian’s meters were still read manually until 2002. Some are now still as old as 15 years. In 2003, the city changed out all the meters when it moved to the current Automated Drive-by system.
The new budget calls for the city utilizing the Neptune T-10 R-900i enhanced meter.
“Neptune warranties their product for 20 years,” Mergener said. “Neptune is the largest meter manufacturer in the United States. It was founded in 1892.”
Of course, meters have come a long way, even since the early 2000s. These new Neptune’s will offer a customer portal that can be accessed through any computer or smart electronic device.
“Our goal is to get our water customers to empower themselves when it comes to monitoring their water consumption,” Mergener said. “Proactive leak management for the customer is also key as is faster response to customer inquiries, since the data is real time. Most of the customer service concerns can be addressed by the phone.”
The new meters will also allow the city to set up warnings and alerts for unusually large usage or continual use, transparency and tamper alerts.
While the program has been funded, there is still required formal action which must be taken by the Midlothian City Council. After this, Mergener said his department can begin the transition within 30 days. The city will complete the entire system upgrade within seven months.
The idea for the meter replacement program for this fiscal year was an idea that Mergener said has taken years to come to fruition.
“There are multiple meter companies that can perform similar tasks,” he explained. “Staff feels that Core and Main’s [distributor of Neptune] commitment to making this a successful program and Neptune’s high standards are the right fit for our customers.”
During the consideration of a replacement program, the city also took a critical path to assure success with the replacements. This included organizing a Utility Advisory Board to get involved, city employees visiting various Texas communities, checking references and numerous meetings with the Core and Main team.
“Our current meter system is reaching its battery life expectancy,” Mergener said. He explains “the meter is still collecting accurate reads – the issue is how the city receives the information via laptop.” The transmission of the data is degrading due to a lack of battery strength, he continued.
All Midlothian Public Water customers will be affected by this new program, but it will likely save the city money in the long run.
“Having this system in place will reduce our need in the future to hire additional Customer Service Technicians,” Mergener said.
The City of Midlothian has three Public Water Supply Systems located within its corporate boundaries. Mergener believes customer inquiries to the Utility Billing office should be dramatically reduced since many calls into the Billing Office are usually consumption questions.
“Monitoring their meter will allow customers to conserve water or use more water within a budgeted time frame and amount. Leak indicators and trending models can also be used. I will state it again – real time data will be available to our customers,” Mergener said.
When the City is complete with the changeover, staff will encourage the customers to use the portal.
“I want to stress this point,” Mergener concluded. “Technology is not for everyone, and some don’t have access to it, but family members can do the monitoring for them if needed. No matter how great the technology is, our Billing office and our Customer Service Team will always be available for any questions or to offer assistance for water meter related questions. We are still in the business of a high quality and very responsive Customer Service approach.”