Parish working to read 17,000 St. John meters to accurately bill customers; Aug. 1 unlikely

Published 12:13 am Saturday, July 14, 2018

LAPLACE — It is unlikely St. John the Baptist Parish’s water meters will be 100 percent manually read by Aug. 1.

That goal, discussed during a June 26 workshop with members of parish administration and the St. John Parish Council, is unlikely to be met because of procurement problems, Utilities Director Blake Fogleman said.

“The first of every month, I would hope we are getting a step closer to getting them read,” Fogleman told L’OBSERVATEUR Wednesday, a day after the latest Parish Council meeting where water meters were again discussed. “We are focused on getting a third party in here to help us with (meter reading).”

Parish meters were designed for once-a-month electronic reading by staff members who drive past each site and record water usage on a laptop via a signal sent by each meter.

However, residents have been told the system, which launched in 2006, was designed to last ten years. Now outdated, it leads to spiked bills, off-schedule billing and estimated charging.

As an interim solution, Fogleman said his staff is working to physically put eyes on each of St. John’s approximate 17,000 meters once a month to create a more accurate manual read and subsequent bill.

“Consistency is the big one to build the trust back in the public,” Fogleman said. “I need to consistently read your meter and I need to do it as accurately as possible. That is our No. 1 focus at this time.”

Parish President Natalie Robottom said administrators are looking to contract with a third-party vendor for approximately 16 months to help manually read meters and interface those readings with the billing department while an updated system is installed.

Complicating the matter, according to Fogleman, is the interim project’s 16 month or longer scope, which may trigger a spending threshold that necessitates the parish go out for Requests for Proposals as the start of an official bid award process.

Once a third party contract is finalized, Fogleman said his department’s focus would turn to locating all parish meters.

Because the 2006 system operated in a drive-by method, many of the physical locations have been lost to easy accessibility through natural yard growth and homeowner upgrades.

According to Fogleman, an exact number of missing meters is unknown but it could be 1,000.

As of now, staff members are not looking for those meters, instead using their manpower to physically read the known water meter locations.

Parish leaders did not provide a timeline for when a third party decision would be made.

Parish Councilman Larry Snyder said commitment would go a long way to a resolution.

“We have to find the meters,” he said at Tuesday’s Parish Council meeting. “This is not a task we can’t do. We just have to make up our mind and let’s go do it.”

New system

St. John Parish has been pre-approved for a $6 million low-interest loan to begin water meter overhaul efforts courtesy of the Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality.

That money is only available if a project is started before December ends.

According to St. John Communications, the Parish Council must vote by October to authorize an advertisement for bids and begin the process.

Digital Engineering was hired by St. John Parish to prepare design, bidding, construction administration and resident inspection specifications for new system options.

Those options were presented in June to Parish Council members contrasting in-house manual reading, contractor-supplied manual reading, automated meter reading and advanced metering infrastructure.

The 20-year cost projections for those options are $23.4 million, $19.8 million, $17.7 million and $16.4 million, respectively.

A Digital Engineering representative went into detail on the advanced metering infrastructure option as it came in as the least expensive.

Following the meeting, various Council members suggested they were waiting on a specific recommendation from Robottom’s office as to which measure was thought to be the best.

According to St. John Communications, June’s entire presentation is the recommendation.