The relievers could make a comeback

Eight years after a previous administration told residents that the Siemens contract would eliminate the need for meter readers, the city of Jackson is considering bringing them back, at least temporarily, to ensure customers receive correct bills.

The director of public works, Robert Miller, proposes to dedicate $ 200,000 to a contract with a private company to read the meters.

The contract is necessary because too many customers are still receiving flat-rate bills, which are issued for homes and businesses where meter data is not available.

The news comes months after the city settled its lawsuit with Siemens Industry for nearly $ 90 million,

Meter readings would be a temporary solution to help increase the city’s water revenue.

Collections are down about $ 3 million per month, in part due to faulty or broken equipment in the field, Miller said.

“There are 86 repeaters that are not working and 16,507 meters are not providing automated readings,” he said.

Repeaters and transmitters are part of a mesh network that carries meter data to the billing office. And until that equipment is dealt with, Miller said the city will continue to experience billing issues.

“There is a lot that we were able to do to get the invoices out, but we still haven’t addressed the underlying problem,” he said. “We don’t get usable meter readings on a monthly basis. ”

The meters were installed under a $ 90 million “energy performance contract” with Siemens Industry.

The city called on the firm in 2012 to completely overhaul the billing system. The work included the installation of some 60,000 residential water meters and 5,000 commercial meters, the installation of a new billing system and the installation of a new mesh network that would allow the meters to communicate with the office. billing.

The project was sold as revenue neutral, meaning that increased revenue and more accurate billing resulting from the work would pay off the contract over time.

However, these savings never materialized. The city sued the company and Siemens settled the lawsuit for the full amount of the contract.

Mayor Chokwe Lumumba has been working to correct contract issues since taking office.

In November, the city implemented “flat rate” billing to ensure all customers receive a statement.

And in December, the city moved its billing software to a cloud-based system.

Previously, the software was on city servers, which were constantly crashing due to age and capacity issues.

Even with these fixes, Jackson’s water revenue is expected to run out by around $ 34 million this year.

Miller said $ 11.7 million was owed on lump sum bills. More than 13,500 of Jackson’s 52,000 customers receive lump sum statements, which run to about $ 63 per month.

The amount is based on what a household would be charged for using 100 gallons of water per day. The amount is much less than what some customers should pay.

Customers receive flat-rate invoices once their accounts are “blocked”. Invoices are blocked when the billing office no longer receives information from their meters.

Meters do not transmit data when they are malfunctioning or when repeaters and transmitters in the field are down.

Repeaters are typically installed on utility poles and have failed for multiple reasons: poles are knocked over in traffic accidents, lightning strikes, battery failures and manufacturing defects.

When repeaters and transmitters fail, this information is not transmitted, which means that the software does not have the data necessary to issue a correct invoice.

Miller proposes to spend $ 160,000 to replace the repeaters and hopes to replace them by the middle of next month.

The remaining $ 22.5 million in losses comes from issues with trading accounts.

In addition to the temporary fixes, Miller proposes to spend $ 1.5 million to perform a full assessment of the existing meter system to determine the costs of repairing or replacing the system. He also suggests spending $ 8 million to determine if the billing software needs to be replaced.

The costs for repeaters and meter readers would come from an emergency loan, while the consulting fees would come from the Siemens regulation.

The settlement was approximately $ 90 million. Of that amount, around $ 30 million was paid to lawyers working on the case, and an additional $ 7 million was used to withdraw a previous emergency water loan.

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