New water meters result in “sticker shock” for some customers

Published 11:43 pm Thursday, May 28, 2009

Utilizing a number of federal grants, Pearl River County’s Utility Authority continues to add water and sewer lines, gradually increasing its core number of customers, now at 300. The authority also is continuing its efforts to add new meters to existing accounts, causing some residents a bit of “sticker shock” when they get their monthly bills.

Water Operator Mike Switzer told the Authority’ board at last Thursday’s meeting that in the Westchester community, they were installing about 12 new meters a week, and that in the process, they discovered four homes that were being supplied water, but were not metered at all.

“There were a lot of people in there paying base price because of broken meters,” explained Switzer. “They went into shock when they got their new bills.”

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Switzer said that part of the problem was that the residents, accustomed to paying for minimal water usage because of the broken meters, used the water freely. “Some have a beautiful yard and beautiful garden; another home has used over 11,000 gallons and were paying base,” said Switzer. “They were in shock when they got their bills.”

Switzer said that when the new meters are installed, his department can pick up “when someone’s water use spikes,” and his crews will investigate to ensure there is not a leak responsible for the usage.

Switzer said during his report that his department had started a chain of custody with water samples “per a DEQ request.” That way, he said, the samples were less likely to be tampered with and the Authority would be ensured of getting a reliable report on water quality. “Before, we never knew who had what when,” Switzer said.

As for efforts continuing to bring the Authority’s stations and equipment up to date, Switzer said that a water gate damaged last year during Hurricane Gustav was recently repaired “in house.”

“We’re glad we did (it in house) because the parts were expensive,” said Switzer, adding that along with some other in-house repairs, check valves, and chemicals, they had spent $30,000 since a year ago June.

Authority engineer Brooks Wallace said that by this upcoming June, the water lines in Hillsdale will be completed and that the foundation for the treatment plant has been started. “Things are going really well, but we are three or four months from producing water,” said Wallace.

He added that Poplarville’s waterlines “should be completed in about a month,” Wallace said.

As for the Picayune pump station, Wallace said the test well went 1,160 feet deep. “There was 280 feet of sand and 70 feet of screen,” said Wallace. “We’re getting good water from Picayune.”

Wallace reminded the board that bid opening for the Poplarville waste water treatment plant was June 17.

In other business, the authority discussed the possibility of purchasing a software program that would marry all aspects of the accounting and work order departments for the utility authority. Wallace said that presently, the company was using several various programs for billing, accounting, and work orders, resulting in “duplicated efforts.”

His preliminary investigation into programs showed that a “full service” program was “very expensive,” Wallace said. The one software program he had looked into was between $250,000 and $300,000. “But that was only one possibility,” said Wallace. “We may be able to purchase a low level version and can build on it.”

“I think it is about time we do something,” he said

Utility Authority president Steve Lawler agreed that the agency needs something that has every aspect within one program. “We’ve got to look at solutions,” said Lawler, “because what we have now, if we want to expand, it won’t work.”

The next Utility Authority meeting will be held June 18 at 2 p.m. at Picayune City Hall on Goodyear Boulevard.