published Tuesday, November 22nd, 2011

City of Jasper ponders water meters

By Ryan Lewis, Correspondent
  • photo
    These devices, known as "fireflies", that enable a water meter reader to record usage levels into a computer while driving nearby in a vehicle.
    Photo by John Rawlston /Chattanooga Times Free Press.

JASPER, Tenn. -- City administrators have taken the initial steps in a massive project to automate the town's water meter reading duties.

The Jasper Board of Mayor and Aldermen unanimously approved last week the purchase of three handheld Badger water meter reading devices for $14,300 from United Utilities Inc. in Smyrna, Tenn.

Gary Cosby of CTI Engineers Inc. said the equipment will allow city workers to complete manual water meter readings while Jasper begins the slow and costly process of purchasing radio meters that will relay and transmit the information automatically to the water company.

Water meter reading takes a great deal of time and manpower away from other critical areas, officials said, and there are 3,900 meters in Jasper.

The board had the option of hiring a company to purchase, install and maintain everything the town needs for an estimated $2.5 million, Cosby said.

"There's no way in clear conscience I would vote to borrow $2.5 million," Vice Mayor Leon Rash said.

Cosby noted that, if a single company is hired, the project would be "completed very quickly because they would do it all." However, he did acknowledge that $2.5 million is "a lot of money, though."

"If [Jasper] does it themselves, they can do it for half that," he said.

In addition to purchasing the three handheld devices, Alderman Paul Evans proposed purchasing 1,000 radio meters for an estimated $130,000.

"We need to go ahead and get our feet wet and make sure we're committed to this," Evans said. "That way we won't be running around with these handhelds for the next five years."

Cosby said buying "the whole system" now would require additional purchases of computer software and hardware beyond the $130,000.

Mayor Billy Simpson said he thinks state and federal funds are going to be cut next year, which could force Jasper into borrowing the money needed for the radio meters if they were bought now.

"From what I'm being told in Nashville, it's going to be tight," he said. "I just want to be conservative. I do not want to get in over our heads."

Alderman Steve Looney said the sooner the city begins purchasing the radio meters, the cheaper it will be in the long run.

"The future is going to catch up with us if we're not careful," he said. "We're going to be the only city with people running around reading meters by hand."

The board agreed to begin a series of workshops in the coming weeks to discuss what they'll do next regarding the purchase of the radio meters.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at ryanlewis34@gmail.com.

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