Dear fellow citizens:
In response to many of your complaints about the process of reading water meters, and the possibility of the human element of reading the numbers and entering them into our accounting system leading to errors, when I became mayor I felt that improving this process was a top priority. It has not been an easy task. There were other problems as well, including “unaccounted for” water; the requirement to remove possible sources of lead from our service lines; and the requirement to test all of our meters every 10 years. The Council and I started working in March on the technical components of what it takes to make a project like this become reality.
We have completed all of the readings of the ordinances for bond council, the project itself, and financing through the West Virginia Municipal Bond Commission and are now ready to proceed with the project. We used the law firm of Steptoe and Johnson to complete all of the legal side of this project including the approval from the WV Public Service Commission. Our accountant analyzed our water system revenues and expenses and determined that we could pay for this project, over ten years, from our existing revenue. As such, our water rates will not need to go up as a result of this project. We could have passed this off to an engineering firm but, as a result of our work, we were able to save roughly 20 percent ($40,000) on the cost of this project.
When we wrote the specifications for the meters which we are installing, we researched what would best fit our budget, staff, and overall operations in an effort to combat our water loss. Over the past few years, the WV Health Department has written up our water service due to the “unaccounted for” water. “Unaccounted for” water is water that is produced for use at the water plant but not paid for by a customer. It is lost through leaks or not billed because of faulty meters. They have also cited us for not complying with the “lead free initiative” and removing possible sources of lead from our service lines. Further the WV Public Service Commission mandates that water meters be tested every ten years. This project will meet the lead free initiative, take care of the 10 year testing issues, and will help combat our unaccounted for water loss. Because these meters are read electronically and that information is transmitted directly to the billing system, most of the opportunity for human error will be removed.
The new meters are “low-flow measurement” meters and are accurate to approximately two ounces of use. The current meters are accurate to approximately 32 ounces. For this reason, some customers may be surprised when they get their first bills after the installation of the new meters. The trend in other utilities which have installed these meters has been that customers understand that the new meters measure more accurately and after a couple of months realize the benefit of doing preventative maintenance to toilets, faucets that may be dripping, and being more conscious of usage.
In 2011, a necessary rate increase was initiated and implemented over a three year period rather than a large one-time increase to make it easier to absorb by our water customers. In each October since, the water and sewer rates have increased. The next increase will occur after Oct. 12. This is in accordance with the WV Public Service Commission’s Tariff #12 passed in 2011 by Council and attested to by Mayor Veazey. The rate increases are included in that tariff, which is available for viewing at city hall during normal business hours. As I have said, this meter project is not a part of any rate increase. I am proud to say that our finances are in order and we are able to sustain this project without a rate increase specific to this project. Hopefully, the new meters will help us account for our “unaccounted for” water that is currently at about an average of 52 percent a month. Reduction in “unaccounted for” water will help defer future rate increases.
Because we received an excellent bid for the meters and their installation, we have some additional funds from the loan which will enable us make additional improvements to our water system. The intake valves at the river will be replaced and we will replace the beads in the up flow clarifier in the plant which have not been replaced since 1989. The beads help decrease the use of treatment chemicals and help in the filtration of our water. These two items should decrease the amount of pump time by at least an hour a day, thus decreasing staff hours and electricity use, as well as chemical costs.
We have also installed a carbon slurry tank at the water plant to help reduce costs and staff hours. This cost was offset by a decrease in the amount of carbon we have to purchase as a result of the use of the slurry. We also purchased new chlorine and sulfur valves for the sewer plant. The replacement of these two valves showed an almost immediate reduction in the use of those chemicals at the plant. These three changes were initiated by our employees in those departments. We are very fortunate to have dedicated team members like them to help us.
The cost savings of the engineering for the water meter project would not have been possible without the assistance of Rick Burns and Eric Duff. With their assistance, Council and I were able to prepare the technical specifications for the meters. Over the next few months, you will see them in the field marking meter boxes with flags. We also plan to put a door hanger on your door when the flags go out. This will alert you that the contractor, C.L Thornberg, will have a crew at your meter box within a short period of time after the flags and door hangers are out. Please do not be alarmed – they are installing the new meter.
Along with the work on the water and sewer utilities, we are developing other plans for our town. Over the next several months you will see information about the Alderson Municipal Planning Commission working on the town’s comprehensive plan which is required to by updated and come into compliance with State Code by 2014. This plan is about defining strengths and weakness, planning and zoning, and setting goals for future growth and development. It is very important for you to come to meetings to help assist in the drafting of our plan.
These are exciting times for us as we make progress in these areas. As I sit in various meetings, I am more certain than ever that we have a lot to be proud of in our “Gem of the Hills.” Please take pride in our town by keeping your property clean and neat. The efforts to make progress are not due to any one person – they take a team. We are glad you are here and want you on our team!
Travis Copenhaver, Mayor