By Greg Ellison
(April 28, 2022) In an effort to improve the accuracy of water bills, the Berlin Town Council on Monday agreed to spend about three quarter of a million dollars to acquire smart meters.
Water Resources Superintendent Jamey Latchum said a report delivered in February by Jean Holloway, from Southeast Rural Community Assistance Project Inc. (SERCAP) in Delaware and eastern Maryland, estimated the town is currently not billing for up to 25 percent of consumers’ usage because of inferior tracking capabilities.
“Right now, we bill per thousand gallons because that’s what our meters read to,” he said.
Following the Holloway report, the council approved purchasing smart meters, with $1 million earmarked from American Plan Rescue Act funds.
Since that point, Josh Taylor, with engineering consultants Davis, Bowen & Friedel, has teamed with town officials to ascertain meter needs.
“The system needed to be compatible with the town’s meter reading system,” he said.
Taylor said vital aspects considered included acquiring lead-free equipment, while also requiring ample warrant coverage.
Latchum said since ARPA funds were being used for the purchase, additional guidelines were included.
“If you’re using ARPA money, it had to be American made,” he said.
During the background research process, Taylor contacted other municipalities in the region that use smart meters to track consumption.
“We really did a lot of digging,” he said.
The feedback steered Taylor toward recommending accepting a bid for $754,990 from Core & Main to supply Neptune smart meters.
Taylor said both contractor Core & Main and equipment manufacturer Neptune have extensive experience with smart water meter projects of comparable scope.
“The service provided by Neptune and by Core & Main was a big factor in our recommendation,” he said.
Taylor said the upgraded meters would permit tracking water usage down to the gallon.
“The 20-25 percent of water not previously billed for would go away,” he said. “You will have very accurate meter readings for years to come.”
Latchum noted the infrastructure upgrade would also improve wastewater billing.
“We will also recover 25 percent on the wastewater side,” he said. “It’s double-fold here because all your sewer is billed off your water.”
Latchum said a revised rate schedule would be established after smart meters are installed and functional.
Interim Town Administrator Mary Bohlen said the revised rate schedule would be set via a council resolution.
Mayor Zack Tyndall noted Holloway’s prior caution regarding billing after installing smart meters.
“Jean Holloway recommended six months of having new meters in place to gauge usage,” he said.
Holloway stressed the importance of ascertaining if new meters were more accurately tracking water consumption before adjusting rates.
“It will be done in conjunction with SERCAP,” he said.
Latchum said smart meter technology would also allow water use to be tracked online.
“They will be getting billed on what they actually use,” he said. “In due time, [we] will be able to track daily usage online.”
Just last week, Latchum fielded a resident’s call regarding an internal water leak at a downtown building.
“It ran for 30 days before he realized it,” he said. “He used 36,000 gallons in 30 days.”
Latchum said smart meter technology would permit monitoring to catch constant use that might indicate possible leaks. That would save the town’s water resources and reduce costs for residents.
Town officials are slated to approve installation costs at a later date, with total project price tag anticipated to be within the $1 million designated from ARPA funds.