Council to pursue water pilot program, fire chief to retire

Editor: Shannon Cottongame

August 18, 2022

The Whitney City Council met in a special session Thursday evening, August 11, to consider a water system upgrade and approve a contract with an electricity provider for city facilities. The council also convened in closed session to hear from Fire Chief Wayland Price before resuming open session and accepting the chief’s notice of retirement.

Chief Price plans to retire effective August 31. “I love my job and I love working with the city,” Price told The Lakelander. “My decision is family related.” He explained that due to health issues involving family members, he has decided to retire and spend more time with his loved ones.

More information about the city’s plans to select an interim chief is expected in the future.

The council voted to implement a pilot program with Fortiline Waterworks, which will include the placement of smart water meters at select locations in town.

Public Works Director Billy Pribble presented the information to the council, noting that the city’s current handheld meter reading units are obsolete and difficult to repair and replace. In addition, Pribble said that it is becoming increasingly difficult to order water meters, with deliveries being delayed a minimum of 12 to 16 weeks.

While these facts have made it necessary to change systems, Pribble said that most cities are no longer using the handheld meter readers, and technology has advanced to a point that many more services can be offered with a smart meter system.

If the council is pleased with the pilot program’s results and it is implemented throughout the city, the new meters would be highly accurate and provide a wealth of information to both the city and the consumer.

It would also allow the Public Works Department to spend more time doing jobs other than meter reading, as readings and other analytics would be transmitted to the city remotely over existing cellular networks.

Pribble said that the system also offers a consumer portal that can be accessed at any time via a smart phone or computer. The portal allows water customers to view water usage by hour, day, week or month; compare usage with other periods; print graphs and other data; identify seasonal trends and more.

Email and text message alerts can also be set up by the customer if they would like to be warned of freezing temperatures or if unusual activity is detected while they are on vacation. The customer can also choose to be notified if their water usage exceeds a certain threshold or if continuous flow is detected over a 24-hour period, indicating a leak.

On the city’s end, the software will allow the city to track device health, meter maps and any issues that occur with the system to help staff address potential issues before they become emergencies.

Pribble said that because the program uses cellular technology, no additional infrastructure, such as antennas, will be needed.

He said that it will also increase revenue for the city, as water loss will be prevented by measuring water usage accurately.

The components come with 20-year warranties and no recurring fees. Pribble said that if the council decides to implement the program city wide, the cost would be around $500,000. He added that grant funds and government assistance would likely be available to assist with the cost, and financing is also available to the city.

For the pilot program, the city will receive 24 meters and related equipment for just under $15,000.

While the council agreed that smart technology is the direction that all water systems are heading, Council Member Martis Ward voted against the pilot program, saying that he wanted prices from more than one company.

All council members voted in favor of the next related motion, which was to look for grants and funding sources for the project.

In other action, Todd Clift of Energie5, the city’s electricity broker, presented a recommendation for the city’s electricity contract.

The current contract expires in June of next year, and Clift recommended a long contract with electricity rates rising. The council voted to approve an 84-month contract with Reliant Energy 6.76 cents per kilowatt hour.

The council will hold its regular August meeting Thursday, August 16. See the agenda for that meeting in this edition.

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