The City of Niceville may undercharge you for the water you are using.
City Manager David Deitch believes the water meters the city uses, some of which have almost 40 years of use on them, may chronically undercount the amount of water used by citizens – resulting in underbilling that leaves the city short on cash for the water it provides. “
He believes a statistical study of the water meters in the ground in Niceville will help the city determine whether or not it is worth the city’s while to begin an aggressive water meter replacement campaign to reduce losses on the city’s part.
The council voted unanimously in October to allow him to begin negotiations with Johnson Controls to do a study to determine an estimate of how much money washes down the drain because of everything from accounting errors to leaky pipes and busted water meters.
Deitch says he caught this potential problem due to the sheer number of faulty water meters the city has had to replace already in his short tenure on the job, which he started in August. He says the Public Works department has had to replace more than 250 registers and endpoints, and 131 additional meters have failed. Additionally, His city staff has had to re-read meters manually, which has forced him to move one member of the public works staff to a job only involving reading meters. He says the city had to manually re-read 778 faulty meters in October. “Our water system is likely not calculating our water usage properly. Thus, we are losing a significant amount of revenue every single year by not updating our water system.”
The toll on his team’s bandwidth had become more than they could bear, especially as they were already understaffed. This “causes my public works team to have to shut down for about a week to go out and manually read these meters, which takes away from the other project they have around town.”
Johnson Controls told the Niceville City Council they had recently undertaken a study and overhaul of the water meters in Jacksonville Beach, Florida.
Jacksonville Beach, a city of about 25,000 people, reports an increase of about $8.7 million in revenue over the next 14 years. Jacksonville Beach paid $6.4 million to Johnson Controls to perform the study and the subsequent overhaul. Niceville has about 16,000 residents.
In total, Johnson Controls reports they replaced about 10,500 water meters.
According to the three representatives from Johnson Controls at the meeting, the process would include a study determining the level of atrophy in the water metering system in Niceville. “This whole stage is a holistic kind of analysis of everything from your billing system,” Adam Kane of Johnson Controls told the council, “you know, you could be missing a decimal point in the wrong spot on a building. It’s [also] an actual pulling of meters out of the ground at a statistical sample and sending them to a lab to see if they are 95% or 90% accurate. That’s your cash register. And then [we would do] a physical survey of your large meters because you only have 25 of them, give or take. They probably account for 80% of the revenue for the city.”
After the study, the council would have to decide whether or not to move forward with a replacement program for the water meters in the city.
Should the city decide to move forward – a replacement campaign would begin.
Some Niceville water customers, Johnson Controls believes, would see an increase in the amount of money they are paying for water. After all, the water currently being given out for free would then be paid for – should the city see increased revenues from the study and replacement.
Johnson Controls would also introduce technology into the mix that would help residents reduce their water consumption and lower their bill – in addition to lowering the number of hours city employees would manually go out to read the meters and could work on other tasks. Kane said that Johnson Controls would introduce technology that would tell people about overages much more quickly than the monthly bill – allowing them to correct water usage and investigate for leaks before they see a ridiculous water bill from the city.
Johnson Controls bills itself as the “world’s leader in smart buildings, creating safe, healthy and sustainable spaces.” They say that they provide the “world’s largest portfolio of building technology, software and services.” The company works in more than 150 countries, has more than 100,000 employees and is listed on the New York Stock Exchange. The company is American but is domiciled in Ireland to take advantage of those sweet, sweet tax breaks.