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Salem mulls new means of reading water meters

SALEM — The city Utilities Commission is looking at a new system for reading water meters from the safety of the water billing office, resulting in a time-savings and more accurate data for catching leaks or issues sooner.

During a presentation in a special meeting preceding the regular commission meeting Thursday afternoon, Ray Schwarz, Ohio Sales Manager for NECO Water, formerly known as Neptune Equipment Company, explained how the fixed-point system works, using data collectors or transmitters affixed to high points around the city, such as the Roosevelt water towers, to automatically collect water usage data from meters in homes and businesses and transmit that information to the water office every hour.

Currently, an employee of the water department drives around the city gathering the information from meters using a mobile radio frequency unit once a month, taking four days to cover the reading of meters in the city and Perry Township which accounts for 32 man hours and 150 miles per month.

Under the fixed-point system being proposed, four Gateway radio frequency collector units would be placed around the city, one on the Stewart Road water tower, one on the Roosevelt Street water towers, one at the wastewater treatment plant and one on a tower or pole on the north end of town. The information would then be accessible at the water billing office through a wireless network, with the system software able to generate reports to identify possible leaks, excessive consumption and reverse flow, allowing water department personnel to take action immediately to contact the water user and determine the issue before it goes too long and results in a big bill.

The system would also allow for final readings for customers immediately instead of having to schedule a final reading and send personnel to the site. Schwarz said the system would also allow for customers to access their own information.

The plan is for Salem to incorporate the fixed-point system with the meters already in place, although about 900 older meters would need replaced with new ones. The cost for the system is about $110,000.

The only concern raised was with the new meters and the fact that the batteries are totally enclosed in the unit and can’t be replaced, although Schwarz did say the units and batteries are supposed to last an average of 18 to 20 years. Once done, the whole unit is done and must be replaced. The new meters are a little more expensive than the existing meters in use at $190 instead of $119, but new meters can also measure the water being used down to 1/100th of a gallon as opposed to within 50 gallons.

When asked for her thoughts, Sam Loper of the water billing office said the system would be very useful, especially for doing final readings from the office so a customer can get a final bill right away after selling a home or leaving. She also said the information from the reports will be helpful for catching leaks or noticing problems in vacant homes.

No decision was made, with commission Chair Bob Hodgson saying they’ll be reviewing the proposal.

In other business, the commission gave permission for Utilities Superintendent Don Weingart to seek authorization through the Utilities Committee of city council and then city council itself to seek bids for sludge disposal. The current contract with Agri-Sludge expires in February. The commission also heard updates on various projects, including Snyder Road sanitary sewer line, wastewater treatment plant Phase 2 upgrades, the fourth water well at Cold Run Creek and the water and sewer line replacements on Franklin.

General Foreman Terry Endsley of the distribution department said the Franklin Street project was ahead of schedule and going very well. The contractor did discover some type of brick vault underground which had to be demolished and then filled in, with the thought that it may have been some type of cistern from earlier days. The costs for the project will increase slightly due to that work, Weingart said.

The commission also gave permission to hire PMG Consulting to provide a scope of work at a cost of $12,185 for the excavation and replacement of two media filters at the water treatment plant. Commission member Randy Malmsberry asked if the company would do it in a timely manner, pointing to the fact that the commission is still waiting for the water plant system optimization study the company is doing. Weingart was told to check with both Burgess & Niple for a preliminary scope for water treatment plant improvements and to reach out to Alfred Benesch & Company, also.

The next commission meeting is set for 4 p.m. Aug. 15.

mgreier@salemnews.net

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