RICHMOND COUNTY – The Richmond County Public Works department is nearing completion on a project to convert all water meters in the county to a new system. But the ongoing upgrade is leaving some county residents with cause for concern.
This new system will send the data from the meter to a computer system for accurate measurement of water used. The project was originally estimated to cost $5 million. Jerry Austin, Public Works director, expects the outcome to come in at least 20 percent under budget.
“It (the upgrade) will come in significantly under budget,” said Austin. “We have done a lot of the work internally and in-house to save the county money.”
But with the upgrade, there has been a recent spike in the number of local water bills skyrocketing in price, thus sparking the want for answers. Concerned citizen Tessie Caulder, who has been active in looking for answers to concerns being made public on Facebook, said she couldn’t just wait around without an explanation.
“I just got involved because I saw the things being posted on the ‘What’s Up Richmond County’ Facebook page,” Caulder said. “I don’t have county water; it does not affect me personally. It does affect some of my family who are on fixed income.
“I got involved because everybody’s talking about it online but nobody’s calling anybody,” Caulder continued. “Nobody’s making a point to go see anybody.”
Caulder said she contacted the North Carolina Utilities Commission and North Carolina Representative Ken Goodman. In an email reply, Goodman suggested that citizens with concerns should contact their local county officials and county commissioners.
In a call by the Richmond Observer to Goodman, he clarified that an email he sent to Caulder made reference to a possible “computer glitch.” Goodman indicated to the Observer that he didn’t mean to imply that there was in fact a computer glitch, but that with a new system, one possibility might be a computer glitch.
Follow-up calls to Austin and Bryan Land, Richmond County Manager, confirmed there is no computer glitch.
“From a legislative standpoint, we don’t have any legal authority to deal with this issue,” Goodman noted. “The County is an independent entity, however, I sympathize with people whose bills have gone up.”
Land riterated that there isn’t a computer problem, and expressed the new system’s accuracy.
“There’s no computer glitch, there’s nothing wrong with these meters,” Land said. “These are highly sensitive, very accurate devices. They are the same devices that Duke Energy, Piedmont Natural Gas and other utilities have been using for almost two decades.”
When asked if overall there has been a large shift up in customer’s bills, Land said that it was, in fact, the opposite.
“No, absolutely not,” Land said of possible rising bills. “Actually, revenues for the month went down when compared to the same time period last year. If anybody’s bill goes up, it is normally because they have consumed an additional amount of water, they have a leak on their site that was not being recorded by the old meter or there was additional days in the billing cycle.”
The meter updating project is nearing its completion. According to Austin, out of 7,500 residential meters in the county only, 700 remain to be converted to the new system. He expects those to finish up before the Christmas holiday. They will then shift to the business side to convert them over to the new meters.
There has also been concerns raised on Facebook about water quality.
“We have only had one complaint recently from the Hollywood Lane area,” Austin explained.
He indicated that the county has done a great deal to improve water clarity recently with automatic flush cycles on dead end lines where sediment is likely to build up over time.
“If any customer has any issue, all they have to do is give us their name or their account number, and we will be glad to look at it,” Austin said. “We can pull it up on an hour-by-hour usage and show them when the water was consumed.”
Land stressed that anyone with any water concern should contact the county so they can be addressed. The County Manager’s Office number is (910) 997-8211.