$6M loan on table to fund water meter solution

Published 12:15 am Saturday, June 16, 2018

LAPLACE — St. John the Baptist Parish’s elected leaders and administrators continue to look for the parish’s best path to an affordable and timely solution to St. John’s aging water meters.

The Parish Council has been at odds with the Administration for at least two years over expiring registers that have provided inaccurate readings and created inflated water bills.

Several options have previously been discussed, including manual reading, hiring independent contractors to read the meters or an upgraded system.

Parish Chief Administrative Officer Laverne Toombs told Council members this week that St. John has been pre-approved for a $6 million Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality low-interest loan that would fund Smart Meter Technology.

The technology is designed to improve meter reading, billing, leak detection and improve utility billing, which has been another source of contention. Toombs said once the specifications have been completed, reviewed and approved by LDEQ, and the loan closed, the project can go out for bid.

She said the total completion time is 16 months from the start date.

Utilities Director Blake Fogleman said bidders would be bidding on the package that comes with the technology, and not just on water meters.

Councilman Larry Snyder admitted “that’s news to me,” to which Fogleman explained the package includes “meters, infrastructure, new portal system. This is bigger than just registers and meters. We are moving forward into a new generation of technology.”

Snyder suggested the administration hire someone familiar with such a system to assist in the installation process and monitoring once its up and running.

“We need some help in putting this together,” he said. “You can’t handle it yourselves. We will have some issues.”

Chief Financial Office Robert Figuero Jr. concurred and said such a person could have “added value.”

Councilman Thomas Malik voiced the first objection, saying he doesn’t know anybody in his district that wants to “spend $6 million to do this project.”

But Fogleman continued to point out the advantages of such an advanced system and said that as “operations man, I want it to be fixed. Operations affect the public. This will help the public.”

Fogleman also pointed out that the parish, regardless of whatever option is ultimately selected, will still have to do a full replacement of all meters for which funding must be found. He said the LDEQ grant allows the parish to complete an advanced project with a 0.95 percent loan for 20 years.

— By Richard Meek