Sunday, October 30, 2011

Remote Water Meters - Our Latest New Thing

At the Council meeting this week, council voted that the city purchase 250 new water meters, at a cost of $86,000. This was done, despite this cost being $20,000 more than was in the budget, and despite there being several unanswered questions as to the need for this purchase at this time.

These meters will be able to be read remotely, from a vehicle passing by, and thus the reasoning given was that labour costs will be reduced.

So now, the city will have three types of water meters. There's the old-fashioned kind, where the reading has to be made at the meter, written down, and submitted. There's a newer kind, which has the option of being read manually, but it can also be wired to the outside of the house to a pin pad, and thus be read by touching the reading device to the pin, so that access to the inside of the house or business is not required. Less than 50% of the meters currently in the city have this capability. And now there's this newest acquisition.

Now, it doesn't take any stretch of logical thought to figure out that 250 meters isn't very many in a city of this size. Upon being questioned, city administration admitted that these meters will be used in new houses. In other words, we're buying these meters to sit on the shelf for a while.

To me, if the reason was really that we want to reduce labour costs, then we should look at what we currently have, and see if there's a way of reducing the costs of reading those meters. For example, was any thought given to wiring all of the second type of meter so that it could be read from outside the house? I'm thinking that you could hire a summer student to do this for a lot less than $86,000, and the result would be that way more than 250 water meters could then be read more easily. Not as exciting as being read remotely, but remember, those meters aren't going to be read for awhile anyway, and I can't believe that the eventual savings from reading 250 meters will be noticeable at budget time.

I'm also surprised that more of the details of our metering system aren't readily available. For example, when I asked how many residences or businesses had the second type of meter, the best that administration could give me was the "less than 50%" number. I find it hard to believe that we set out to solve problems without having as much information as possible available.

I'm also disappointed, once again, in other members of council who seem to feel that if administration proposes something, then we need to agree to it, without asking questions. Unfortunately, administration hasn't been elected to represent the needs of the residents of the city, members of council have. For instance, I've asked why it isn't possible for water billing to be done monthly, as is done for other utilities, as many residents have mentioned that this would make their financial lives easier. The response is usually a vague questioning look, without a good response.

Council needs to collectively give itself a shake, remember why we're there (and no, acting as an automatic rubber stamp was nowhere in our oath of office), and start asking the tough questions, especially before approving expenditures that aren't necessary, and are outside the approved budget.

"He who joyfully marches in rank and file has ... been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would suffice." - Albert Einstein

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