Editor: Shannon Cottongame
March 22, 2023
The Whitney City Council voted to replace water meters in the city with smart meters at a meeting held Thursday, March 16. The council’s action follows a pilot program in which the meters were tested in select locations throughout the city.
Public Works Director Billy Pribble told the council that water meters typically have a 15- to 20-year lifespan, and many of the city’s meters are older than that. Older meters are known to have water loss issues and create situations where customers are not billed for all of the water they are using, and the city must operate within a certain margin of water loss under Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ) and Texas Water Development Board rules.
In addition to providing accurate readings, the new meters allow customers to see and manage their usage, including setting alarms that will alert them of leaks.
Throughout the pilot program that began in September, a total of 56 Diehl Ultrasonic Water Meters were installed, including at council members’ homes to allow them to see how they performed prior to voting on the issue. Pribble said that the new meters performed flawlessly during extreme weather events and notified customers immediately of any leaks.
The city will finance the purchase and third-party installation of the meters through Government Capital Corporation at a cost of $594,216. The financing plan includes 15 annual payments with an interest rate of 5.397%.
Pribble said that with the city’s recently adopted ascending rate scale and the improved accuracy of readings with the new meters, the loan payment is not expected to put a significant burden on the city. The first payment will not be due for one year, which will give time for these benefits to take effect.
Mayor Jerry Barker emphasized that the city will also continue seeking grant money for the project.
Representatives of Atmos Energy made a presentation to the council about work that the company will be performing in town through the end of the year. Atmos is working on replacing its gas lines as part of a larger effort to reduce its environmental impact and make its infrastructure as safe as possible. The work involves 21,340 linear feet and about four miles. The Atmos representatives said that the company will get any areas that must be dug up back into their original condition after the work is done.
The council approved moving $270,040 from general reserves to the police department to fund necessary improvements and help the department provide sign-on bonuses and competitive pay to new officers. Some of those improvements include new handheld radios that will work with the county’s new 800 Mhz radio system and required body-worn cameras and dash cameras.
An ordinance to form a Parks Advisory Board was approved by the council. Mayor Jerry Barker said that he continues to work toward the goal of re-establishing boards, commissions and committees to serve the city, including the Parks Advisory Board, Planning and Zoning Commission and Board of Adjustments. The parks board will provide input and advice regarding park facilities, programs and opportunities. Barker said that the Whitney Youth Association and Whitney Wildcat Football League will have reserved spots on the board, and Public Works Director Pribble will be the city’s representative on the board.
The council approved an interlocal agreement with Hill County stating that the city has regulatory authority over subdivisions located in the city’s extra-territorial jurisdiction (ETJ), which extends a half-mile outside of the city limits. The 77th Texas Legislature passed legislation stating that the city and county may not both regulate subdivisions in the ETJ of a city and they must enter in an agreement. The agreement gives the city authority to ensure that developments in the ETJ eligible to receive city utilities have infrastructure that is built to the city’s requirements.
The council voted to waive city park usage fees for the Whitney Youth Association as has been done in the past. The organization will not have to pay fees for any of its games or tournaments, but any outside organizations, such as select leagues, will be required to pay the fees.
In open forum, Lake Whitney Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors representative Steve Peacock invited representatives of the city to attend the chamber’s annual awards banquet set for Thursday, April 13, and said that the chamber has reserved a table for the city.
Police Chief Kevin Hughes reported that the department successfully navigated a Criminal Justice Information Systems audit carried out by the Department of Public Safety after a one-day notice. The recruitment/retention program approved by the council is already yielding results, and the department has brought two experienced officers this month.
Fire Chief David Gilmore reported that the city’s weather siren is in need of repair and is not currently functioning. He encouraged citizens to pay attention to other weather sources in the meantime and to sign up for emergency alerts from Hill County Emergency Management. In February, the department responded to 20 calls in the city, 20 in the fire district and 10 in the county.
EMS Supervisor John Martin reported that the department had responded to 92 medical calls since January, and the response time continues to be under five minutes. He said that the department continues to work towards getting even faster and more efficient.
Public Works Director Billy Pribble said that the Environmental Protection Agency and TCEQ are implementing new lead and copper rules to community water systems. This means that the department has to inspect water lines in every area of the city and submit a report that includes GPS coordinates by October 16. Public Works was anticipating the requirement and has already been working on the inspections, and the new water meters will help the department complete the report by providing accurate GPS coordinates. He said that the department also continues to work on safety initiatives, including meetings and training, and a Texas Municipal League representative will be in town once a month to provide safety training to employees.
Event Coordinator Pam Townley reported that the previous weekend’s event at the Whitney Area Museum was a success, and she thanked the mayor, council and city for all they have done for the museum. The mayor encouraged everyone to visit and enjoy the impressive collection of local history available there.
The monthly report submitted by Library Director Denise Carter showed that there were 394 visitors to the library in February and 27 new library cards issued.
The council’s next regularly scheduled meeting is set for Thursday, April 20, at 6 p.m.