Get ready for new water meters
Residents who pay water utility bills to the city of Farmington should keep their eyes open for a letter from the city in the next few months. If they do not respond to the letter, it could cost them as much as $150 a month.
The letter in question will come from the city of Farmington and its water meter installation company, SL-Serco. In it, SL-Serco will explain a planned citywide water meter replacement program and ask most residents to schedule a time to have their water meters replaced, a task that will be done at no cost to the homeowner.
There are approximately 6,000 water meters in the city, according to Todd Reiten, Farmington's director of municipal services. Of those, 3,000 are manual-read meters, where a city employee must actually go up onto each property and read the numbers on the meter.
Another 2,300 are trace meters, which enable the meter reader to use a hand-held device to read the numbers. The problem with that, Rieten said, is that if the reader is not in the right place, the hand-held unit will not pick up the numbers on the meter.
"Those two are just pretty much obsolete," he said.
There are about 700 homes in the community that have a new style of meter referred to as Orion reads. The latter is the most effective, as it is uses radio waves and a laptop to access the meter numbers.
"You can just drive right down the street and pick up the reads," Rieten said.
All of the manual and trace reads in the community will be replaced by the Orion read, though the existing Orions need not be replaced. The Orion read systems have a 20-year life, Rieten said, "so the whole city should be set for a while."
With the different kinds of water meters spread throughout the community, it takes city staff the better part of a month to perform readings. Each area of the city takes seven to 10 days, Rieten says, which ties up a lot of man-hours that could be better spent working on other projects.
With the Orion system it will take about a day's worth of driving around town to complete the meter readings, leaving the rest of the time available for other projects.
Because the city will be replacing a so many meters, the city will receive a discount on the meters, as well -- about $350,000 in savings, Rieten said.
The replacement project will start in the next couple of weeks. The city will be divided into several zones, and letters bearing the city's logo, written by SL-Serco, will be sent to every home that pays water utility bills to the city, one zone at a time.
A group of 100 homes will receive the first batch of letters, Rieten said. When the letters are received, residents should contact SL-Serco to set up a time for the meter replacement. The process will take an hour or less, and there is no cost for having a new meter installed. Funding for the project is covered by funds set aside by the city's water board.
Residents will have about two weeks to schedule the replacements with SL-Serco. If the company does not receive a call from the resident, SL-Serco will set a date and time to come to the residence and do the replacement. In that case, SL-Serco will send a postcard notifying the homeowner of the date and time.
Residents will be required to have someone 18 or older on the premises when the company arrives, and that individual will be asked to sign off on receipt of the new meter. If the company does not hear from a resident following the postcard notice, a third notice will be sent.
After three attempts by SL-Serco, Rieten plans to try to contact the homeowners himself. If a homeowner is still unresponsive, that residence will be assessed a $150 fee monthly until the meter is replaced.
"We don't want to scare people off, but this is how the process works," Rieten said. "We just want to get them in and make this a smooth and easy process."
Residents who live in townhomes or neighborhoods that use an association may not be included, depending on how their water utility bills are paid.
Residents whose homes are part of an association, but whose homes have individual meters and regularly pay their own water bills will receive the letters if the meters in those homes need to be upgraded.
Rieten understands that residents may be somewhat guarded when it comes to allowing strangers onto their property. He assures SL-Serco is a reputable company. All of their employees are subject to background checks, he said, and will come to each home in a company-marked vehicle, and wear identification badges.
"If anyone has any concerns about someone walking up to their doors, they can call us or the company and we will look into it," Rieten said.
Information about the meter replacement program will be posted on the city's website, www.ci.farmington.mn.us, as it becomes available. Residents may also call Todd Rieten at 651-463-1630 with questions or concerns.