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Thursday, April 20, 2006

Water Meter Reading in Lynchburg Does It Have to Be So Expensive?

In the Lynchburg Virginia budget proposed in 2007, one thing I found striking is the cost of reading meters. Currently, the performance goals are:

Provide prompt and accurate meter reading of all accounts on a monthly basis, and to reduce the cost of each read to $2.20.

Each meter read in Lynchburg exceeds $2.20. The total budget for meter reading alone is over a half million dollars.

Are there better and cheaper ways?

Three ideas come to mind:

1. Why read meters each month? This could be done on a quarterly basis, billing can be done on historical basis with an adjustment on the fourth month. This could effectively reduce the city cost 75 percent. This would also lead to a reduction in fuel costs, man power demands, and maintenance on city vehicles.

2. Have an option for meters to be self read by the users. Accountability could be maintained by comparison to historical records and the meter could check twice a year for the avoidance of fraud. An incentive could be provided to the those who opt for this by decreasing their billing by a dollar with internet filing of their bills in a timely fashion.

3. Automate meter reading, this is done in Europe and Canada and it is now being used in communities throughout the U.S. There are several approaches. One would be to use areas that have WIFI access. (Wireless internet Lynchburg has over 90 areas where this could now happen.)

An attachment to a regular meter can already perform this function. There is also an option to do this by reading a radio signal by driving by in a truck. The device already designed has a battery life and expected performance life longer than meters they would be attached to.

One person reading meters driving by radio transmission, could read all of the meters in a day that he now does in a month.

Look for more articles evaluating aspects of the city budget.

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