By Brandon Martin
The Henry County Public Service Authority (PSA) agreed to move forward with plans to upgrade the county’s water meter reading system to a fixed-based system during a June 15 meeting.
Tim Pace, director of engineering for Henry County, said that currently, the county collects readings through a radio transmitter.
“We drive by, and once you get a certain distance from it, we will read the meter,” he said. “The next upgrade to that is what is called a fixed-based system.”
He said that his team had been working with the company Sensus, which provides technologies and services for water, gas, electric and lighting utilities. Pace said data like meter locations and typography, were required to be submitted as part of the upgrade study.
“In their study, they determined if we had an antenna at Ferndale that we could read approximately 6,400 of our water meters from that tower without riding by, and we can do them right in the office,” he said.
Pace said that originally, the county would have needed to purchase a second radio receiver for a vehicle, which was budgeted to cost about $27,000. Now, if the county upgrades to a fixed-based system and once Sensus gives the exact number of meters that could read from that location, then Sensus will put in the equipment that is necessary to run those meters, according to Pace.
“If we put in a tower, and it reads 4,000, well they would have to put in another tower to reach the number that they guarantee,” he said.
He added that equipment and installation will cost $82,000, and then there would be an annual operating subscription. When the data is read, it will be kept in a cloud-based system.
“We feel like being able to read half of our meters in the matter of a push of a button, and having that efficiency, is well worth the $82,000 in equipment and installation,” Pace said.
Other locations could also be used if it proves to be a good investment.
“We have money to do this but it is a significant expenditure,” said Tim Hall, Henry County Administrator and General Manager of the PSA. “Staff and I agree that this is something that we probably need to do. It makes us more efficient.”
Hall said in addition to being able to shift personnel to other tasks, the new system will also allow for real-time leak detection.
“This will reduce our reading days by half,” said PSA board member Marcus Stone, of Blackberry, as he discussed another benefit of the upgrade.
Currently, Pace said that it takes 4 to 5 days to complete all of the readings. According to Pace, the City of Martinsville recently upgraded their water system, “and from everything I’ve heard, they really like the system and it’s doing really well.”
Hall said that the county is currently working on plans to disseminate $4.4 million in coronavirus (COVID-19) relief funds.
“The main thing is you can go back to March and chronicle, on the county’s side, any COVID-related expense, and we can keep logging those through December 30 this calendar year,” Hall said, adding that there has yet to be any specific directions on how the money can be used.
He said the plan will be brought before the Board of Supervisors in their next meeting for discussion.
“One thing we’ve been talking about, and one thing I hope we will do, is we will donate a significant chunk of that money to social services,” Hall said. “Citizens in Henry County who are having trouble paying their bills can go to social services and demonstrate their need, and they will be able to get an allocation through social services to pay their utility bills.”
Hall said this wouldn’t apply specifically to PSA bills, and that the funds could apply to any utility bill an individual had problems paying due to problems caused by the coronavirus.
“We haven’t cut off any account since March,” Hall said. “We’ve extended it a couple of times. Once we get back to that situation, we will let customers know there is a pot of money they can access through social services to help.”
In addition, Hall said that the county is looking to use some of the funds for a business grant program based on the number of employees and financial impact to the business from COVID-19.