Commissioners have agreed to start the process of updating water meters throughout the city, which will grant both staff and customers the ability to monitor water readings immediately online or on their phone.
A change is coming to the homes and businesses in Plant City that rely on city water.
Commissioners agreed to begin the process of transitioning the city’s Automatic Meter Reading Devices to Automatic Meter Interface Devices via a contract with Badger Meters, Inc.
This will be a process that will take several years to complete, but the first steps are now underway. Once completed it will completely evolve the process of monitoring water usage in the city for both city staff and for customers themselves.
“This is something they’ve been researching for a while now and they ran a pilot program in 2019 with 43 residential and 32 commercial to test it,” City Manager Bill McDaniel said. “Sometimes things sound good, but then you start testing it and realize it either isn’t a good fit or it isn’t what you thought it would be. But this has really been everything we were hoping it would be.”
The AMI devices communicate from the meter to the software through cellular towers, which will completely eliminate the need to drive by customer’s homes and businesses to obtain readings.
Denise McDaniel, utility billing manager said this will mean city staff no longer need to drive around all day long checking on readings as they can access the information from the office. That will free up employees to do other duties in the department like talking to customers about water concerns.
The city manager added that the element designed into the meters that is accessible by the public is one of the things he is most excited for from this process. The meters also have an “Eye On Water” service that essentially lets customers immediately connect to the meter and track water consumption data.
There are many examples of why that instant access that customers can pull up on their phone is revolutionary. The example Denise McDaniel emphasized in her presentation of the project to commissioners was that no longer would residents go on vacation or head out of town and then come home to a flooded house and a sky-high water bill.
Customers can instead receive leak alerts via text or email and then call the city to have the water turned off until they can return and deal with the issue.
While it’s not an issue that happens often, when it does it can be devastating, a fact that Mayor Rick Lott pointed out last week by having anyone in the audience who had dealt with a leak while they were out of town raise their hand. A significant percentage of those in attendance threw their hands up, including several sitting commissioners.
Denise McDaniel said the hope is that customers will also begin or continue with more depth to analyze their water consumption.
When they can have an immediate glimpse at the water usage for their home or business they can start to identify trends and make more informed decisions on their habits and water usage choices.
The plan is for all new customers to pay to have an AMI meter installed, which currently costs $274.42 for a 5/8-inch meter, $39.49 more than an AMR meter. Then, as batteries in the AMR devices die, they will be replaced with AMI meters at the City’s expense. This process will take five to ten years depending on the funding provided to this capital project.
Staff said the plan is for new development, like the new subdivisions and industrial/commercial buildings to get the AMI meters first.
If you already have a meter you will not be paying for the new one, you just have to wait until the current device is replaced by the city.
The current fiscal year has $200,000 available for the AMR meters that need battery replacements and the proposed fiscal year 2022 budget will include $230,000, which will cover 1,150 meters.
Commissioners unanimously agreed to support the project in a 5-0 vote last Monday.