Hustonville water meters a ‘ticking bomb’; city needs expensive upgrade to maintain reading ability

Published 11:17 am Thursday, February 7, 2019

Hustonville’s water meters are no longer being serviced by the company that sold them to the city, meaning if and when they start going bad, the city could be in trouble.

“It’s kind of a ticking bomb waiting to go off,” warned James Sullivan, an operator for Hustonville Waterworks.

Sullivan briefed Hustonville City Council on the water-meter issue Tuesday night and brought two prices with him for fixing the problem.

The city’s current meters and meter-reading technology were bought from a company named Sensus about 10 years ago, he said.

“We bought a Sensus radio-read system and they told us it would be good for 20 years,” Sullivan said. “… They came to us and approached us and said they had actually changed the vehicle-unit system and we were pretty much going to have to update. Our unit was no longer going to be serviced or operated on or anything.”

The upgrade is big money for a small city: Sensus wants about $23,000 for the vehicle system that reads the meters, and about $274 to upgrade each water meter, Sullivan said.

Hustonville Waterworks serves around 2,000 water meters, he said.

Sullivan found substantially cheaper prices available from Consolidated Pipe and Supply, which would sell Hustonville its vehicle system for about $14,000 and charge about $152 for each meter.

“We’re at the point that we have to upgrade to something,” Sullivan said. “… It’s just something that’s going to have to be done.”

Hustonville Waterworks had a scare recently when something went wrong and they thought the meter-reading system was going to go down. If that happened, there would be no way to get it serviced and back up and running, he said.

Eddie Brewer with Consolidated Pipe came with Sullivan to Tuesday night’s meeting. He said Consolidated sells Mueller products, which have built-in backwards compatibility, so that new reading systems can also read older meters. The new system he wants to sell to Hustonville keeps 105 days worth of hourly data on each meter, allowing water officials to go back and view hour-by-hour usage to potentially pinpoint when a leak occurred or a customer left a hose running.

“That can be invaluable at times whenever you’ve got those conversations with customers regarding their bill, and maintaining the integrity of your system through leak monitoring,” Brewer said.

Sullivan and Brewer told council members there are also more expensive meters available that have a remote disconnect feature, allowing water employees to turn off a water meter from the street. That can be helpful if a customer has a big dog or has blocked access to the meter in an effort to prevent their water being shut off, Brewer explained.

Sullivan said Hustonville could potentially buy a handful of the more expensive meters for use on meters that frequently get shut off.

Council member Tim Smith questioned how Consolidated could provide its system at such a lower price than Sensus. “Why is it $122 cheaper?” he asked.

“Sensus is notorious for being very expensive,” Sullivan responded. “When we bought them, they sold to us saying, ‘We’re a lot higher than everybody else, but we’re top-of-the-line technology.’ It’s one of those things … it sounds good, then you get it and you actually run it and it’s like, ‘This thing ain’t as great as they said it was.'”

Sullivan called three area water districts that use Consolidated, and all three reported that there was a “hiccup” in 2010, but other than that, the service has been great. He also visited Rockcastle County to ride with a meter reader using a Consolidated system. The Consolidated system can read from much further away than Hustonville’s current system, he said.

The council took no action on the matter Tuesday. Brewer said Consolidated’s pricing offer is good through the end of June.

Nuisance ordinance

Mayor Marc Spivey provided council members with copies of Hustonville’s nuisance ordinance Tuesday night and told them, “In the near future, I do plan on enforcing this.”

Council member Jimmy Evans said the city needs to look into getting the Lincoln County Health Department involved and that there’s one property in particular that is problematic.

“You’re only 25 yards from the school, and it looks like a landfill,” he said.

Spivey said he’s only been mayor since the beginning of the year and “I can’t fix everything in 30 days,” but he does intend to begin addressing problems through the nuisance ordinance.

Other business

In other business, the council:

• heard from Mayor Marc Spivey that the current fire/EMS building project is expected to be done by late March, when the city will receive a certificate of occupancy — but there will not be any heating or air conditioning in the building yet;

• scheduled a special called meeting for 2 p.m. on Feb. 22 to further discuss the fire/EMS building; and

• approved spending about $60 a month and paying a one-time fee of $50 for a four-yard Dumpster at city hall, which will be serviced by Rumpke.

Spivey said he hopes with the Dumpster in place that the city can begin to empty the trash cans at the city park weekly.

The city’s current trash contractor takes up to five bags of trash a week for $20 a month and charges $1 extra for every extra bag.