City may consider ‘smart’ water meter

Effort could save $170,000 a year

Municipal leaders are scheduled to weigh installing automatic water meter readers at tonight’s meeting. The upgrade could save the city nearly $170,000 annually.

Two full-time employees are responsible for physically reading about 3,400 water meters across the city. For fiscal year 2015, one city water meter reader is forecasted to cost the city $60,000 in wages. Transportation, fuel cost and maintenance is expected to add another $130,000 to the water meter budget.

“Our current system is labor intensive and time consuming,” said City Manager Shane Hale.

In a three-page memo to city officials, public works director Philip Johnson wrote the current method was not cost-effective.

“It is inefficient, and can be problematic,” Johnson said.

Cortez City Council members are expected to consider the upgrade at a public workshop Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. The council’s regular meeting at City Hall follows at 7:30 p.m.

In his memo, Johnson outlined four areas of concern, including mistakes that could be made in retrieval and input of data, manpower and resources required, time associated with reading the meters and the lack of ability to track historical information.

With automatic readings, Johnson said any city employee could operate the system, and transfer all data electronically in a day. He added the “smart” meters could also identify leaks promptly.

From a financial standpoint, Johnson estimated the new meters would cost $1 million, but added that operational cost savings and increased revenues, $69,000 and $100,000 respectively, would be realized because of the upgrade.

The city’s water fund is projected to start fiscal year 2015 at $2.2 million. Without the new meters, capital plans in 2015 are forecast at $580,000, which include water infrastructure replacements and work at the treatment plant.

Johnson suggested that smart meters could be financed with minimal impact on the city’s water fund. The Colorado Department of Local Affairs, for example, offers energy-impact assistance grants of $200,000. Utilizing the grant money in combination with a low-interest loan, the smart readers were estimated to cost the city roughly $80,000 annually, Johnson said.

“This plan would provide for continued growth of the water fund balance, cover loan payments and increase the accuracy of our revenue stream,” Johnson said.

The Cortez Sanitation District cited “unreliable” city water meter readings when sewer rates were based on consumption, forcing the district to adjust its rates based on national averages at the start of the year. Hale said the city doesn’t have any current agreements with the sanitation district to resume using municipal water meter readings.

“I believe that the San board is very optimistic about what this upgrade could mean for the district, and the city council remains open to any talks that result in a better working relationship and a more efficient and cost effective service being provided to the taxpayers,” said Hale. “So, it’s fair to say that down the road, it’s possible that the district will benefit as well if the city council opts to move forward.”