60+ water meters prove faulty
Replacements in short supply; impact on bills, city revenue uncertain
More than 60 defective city water meters have been found during inspections conducted since policy changes prompted in February by a Marion County Record investigation.
The newspaper asked city administrator Roger Holter about the possibility that some customers were being overbilled when zero usage was registered for consecutive months before receiving an updated bill.
Holter recommended two policy changes that were approved by city council. One was to give a $5.05 credit for prior months when zero usage was recorded. The other was to implement semiannual visual checks of meters.
“Working through route by route, we have identified about 60 meters that were defective,” Holter said.
Marion has 1,009 water meters.
“In route 1, which has the majority of the residential meters, we discovered nine meters that were completely blank,” Holter said.
Since those meters weren’t recording at all, there’s no way to know how much water was used by those customers and no basis for generating a bill for missed months, Holter said.
“We can’t charge them for anything without knowing what’s there,” he said. “At the end of the day we could say it’s X amount based off of previous usage, but that doesn’t help us solve the problem for the customer.”
The city had 23 spare meters in inventory. They were used to replace those nine and 14 more that were recording usage but not transmitting the data to electronic reading units.
“What we discovered with 12 of those 14 is that it didn’t end up with an additional charge to the customer when we use that one month credit,” Holter said. “Of the remaining two, I only received a request from one to spread (their payment) out over the three-month time frame. We believe the policies adopted are fair and consistent for everyone involved.”
The city will get 25 more meters from a Salina distributor in June, Holter said. Cities converting to radio-read systems have put a crimp in on-hand inventories.
Holter said the new meters would be one-piece factory-sealed units that should be less susceptible to moisture-related malfunctions. Meters being replaced, which are from the same company, have multiple components.
“We’ll continue on with the process until all of the suspect ones are verified and resolved,” Holter said.