Belle approves Sensus water meter bid, begins quest for funding

By Roxie Murphy, Staff Writer
Posted 1/6/21

BELLE— The city of Belle approved a Senus meter bid provided by Core and Main with a 4-0 vote during the Dec. 22 special meeting after Public Works Director Tony Baretich outlined the usage …

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Belle approves Sensus water meter bid, begins quest for funding

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BELLE— The city of Belle approved a Senus meter bid provided by Core and Main with a 4-0 vote during the Dec. 22 special meeting after Public Works Director Tony Baretich outlined the usage information and references.

“If you guys remember, we had three bids and I read them all three or four times and went over everything,” Baretich began. “I am going to start with the one I am going to recommend and go back in comparison to the others if that is ok.”

Baretich began by explaining the warranty on the Sensus meter because that was the board’s biggest concern with the current meters.

“This is the one with an original bid of $258,394,” Baretich began. “Within that bid, the warranty was the major point that I think exceeded the other ones.”

He explained that the Ally meter is the one they discussed with the remote activation shut off features that were deemed important. It has a 15-year warranty, which is shorter than the IPRO meter that the city would use for general use and has five years more warranty than other comparable meters.

“With this meter, what we are gaining is a meter that is all in one — the reader, the shut-off, everything sits in one compartment in the current lay that we use in our setters,” Baretich said. “With the other competitor, we would have to redesign both the setters because there is an add on feature that makes the component two inches longer than what the standard meter size is. We would have to adjust plumbing in people’s basements to get this to fit.”

The valve from the competitor also uses a different kind of software than what the city currently uses to operate its system.

“It’s all the same software, all the same computer, all the same reader, everything,” Baretich said about his recommended brand, the Ally meter.

Sensus also says they will fully repair or replace non-performing meters that are between one and 15-years-old.

“We gained five years on full replacement and as you can see, it is scheduled out the remaining five years for what you would pay for replacing those meters,” Baretich said. “Here is the other big factor that I got from talking to the sales rep coming in. With this company, we send in five, 10or 20 meters ‘cause they are not working. When we get those meters back, that full warranty starts all over. With the other companies, and we’re in year seven, we send 10 meters in and we only have three years of warranty left on those new meters.”

Baretich told the board they will replace meters. They are electronic, and sit in wet conditions, have batteries, and so on, that they will occasionally need replaced.

“I feel like that warranty on there gets us out there a long time with some coverage and in taking care of the meters that we are getting ready to spend some money on getting them in the ground,” Baretich said.

Alderman Courtney Abel asked what they have to do to turn it in and Baretich said they all have serial numbers. Abel asked if they could keep track of the units with a Spreadsheet document.

“They call it their Sensus number, but it is basically their serial number for that meter, then we will have to work with the install company to match this serial number with this address,” Baretich said. “I think it would be in our best interest to house track that, too.”

Baretich said the third option was the Badger meters that have the industry standard of 10 and 10.

“The first 10 years are full coverage and the second 10 is a prorated coverage, and there are substantially less issues with the big meters going bad versus the residential.” Baretich said. 

He said the Sensus meter group takes good care of the city and if something went wrong that night, they would have the part by the morning.

“The other company will do the same stuff, but this happens to be the meter that gives us the best bang for our buck,” Baretich said.

Alderman Ken Stanfield asked about the price, and Baretich said he has some information on that. They initially asked for bids to include 75 basement meters with a remote shutoff, to cover the problem residences, which came out at $38,000.

“The regular meters are $236 and remote activation meters are $513 — double,” Baretich said. “So when I adjusted the numbers to see what we would need, by my math, we would be down to about $228,229, about a $30,000 difference between the order and the estimate.”

Baretich made the adjustment by taking off some of the basement meters. The city would purchase 725 meters for a cost of $171,100, and the difference to add the remote activation is $83,110.

Also, the software, support and tech assistance the first year, including a laptop, hardware and antenna to read the system is included in the bid. A hand unit was also included for the recommended system to read the meter, connect and disconnect the water.

“The other company’s handheld is a small box that attaches to a cell phone,” Baretich said. “Sensus owns their own frequency so nobody else can trample on it.”

He said sometimes it is impossible to make a call from the park to city hall, so relying on cell phone service isn’t always the best option. The company assures the city that they will be able to read the meters and should not have to drive the entire town to complete the readings.

“That brings me back to the references,” Baretich said. “I made several phone calls and the one guy I talked to in Lebanon has the Ally meters and they said they love them.

“They said they did the same thing back when they were having the same types of issues we are with the shutoffs and reconnects,” Baretich said. “They have only been running them eight or nine months and currently have 14,000 meters that they are reading in the ground.”

He also called Stoddard County and they have only been using the drive-by system for four or five months, and are reading 2,012 meters in two hours.

The city of Bourbon has the meters also, but expressed they were having some growing pains, but believes it is on their end because they decided to change meters over in sections and they are using an old system and new system and trying to put everything in the same billing system.

Baretich spoke with another city that had a similar water meter system to Belle’s. That city built a homemade water testing kit and found that with the Hersey meters, the same that the city of Belle is trying to get rid of, was at a 40 percent water loss and after they changed all of the meters, they were at five.

“He made a homemade bench testing kit, and said for every five gallons of water they ran through one of the old meters like we are getting rid of, it registered ⅓ of one gallon,” Baretich said. “I can’t promise you we are going to see that substantial of an increase, but I do think we are going to see an increase of our water being metered by getting rid of this system and going to something different.”

The meter is made of composite, with a snap-on and water turn clip at the top. If an antenna on their current meters breaks, they have to take the whole top off to replace it. Under the new unit, there is no need to change a meter for an antenna issue. The antennas are also warrantied for 15 years, but not against lawnmowers.

Alderman Jeanette Struemph said it is almost as if the warranty way out measures everything.

“Between the warranty and functionality of the remote shutoff, are two of the important features I think we decided that mean something to us and these are the best out of the three options we currently have,” Baretich said. “I fully anticipate no matter what we go to, we are going to have some growing pains.”

He added that the yearly maintenance fee they looked at last month was either 79 cents a meter or a yearly maintenance fee of $2,495.

 “If we chose to go with it, our yearly maintenance would be $2,495,” Baretich said.

Baretich said he could tell the board the numbers on the other two bids, which are less, but have a lot less warranty to them.

“Do you have any questions about why I think this is our best option?” Baretich said.

Mayor Steve Vogt said he went to two of the three banks to get an idea of how they would want it done.

“It depends on how you write it up,” Vogt said. “You can do it in a five, 10, 15 or 20 year pay off. If we do 20 years, we could set it up for the first 10 years and rebid it for the next 10 years. There was a question of what the city would use as collateral, especially with the loan on the city’s new water tower.

“At that rate, we would have it paid off by June 2022,” Vogt said. “We don’t have to vote on it tonight. I think it is important to decide how we want to pay for this, and consider all options — good, buy and indifferent.”

Struemph asked what the rate was on the water tower, and Vogt said he didn’t ask that.

Vogt said if they took the loan and paid it off later, they would have to consider what they are making money off of.

“The money that we earn with the Money Market, it would probably be best to take a full loan than to take the money out of the Money Market,” Abel said.

Bareitch said they are still looking at $314,000 by the time they put it all together. If they combine the water tower loan, they could use the tower as collateral.

“If you want to get me some direction tonight, I can write it up for the next meeting,” Vogt said.

The city still owes $26,500 on the water tower.

Baretich said he doesn’t think the city is billing for the correct amount of use. Vogt said it would be a good idea to see what the city is going to recoup before raising the rates.

“It’s taking the whole team four or five days to read the meters right now,” Baretich said.

Alderman Sundi Jo Graham made a motion to purchase the Sensus brand meter, and insulation, paid off in 15 years or less on a fixed-rate loan. The board approved the motion and agreed to leave the Money Market account alone, with a 4-0 vote.

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