At a meeting of the Harrisburg Authority Board on January 23rd, Sue Weldon, a Harrisburg Water Bureau meter reader and president of AFSCME 521, asked the Board members if they were aware of the issue the City is having with its water readings.
Most if not every house in the City of Harrisburg has a 3.5" by 4.5" plastic box mounted to the front of their homes (which for some residents is a debauchery to the historical facade of City houses). These boxes are transit boxes for remote water readings, a system put in place during the Reed Administration about ten years ago.
While that technological investment improved efficiency and cost savings, a plan for long-term maintenance seems to have been neglected. Nor has one yet seemed to be developed.
Per Weldon, there are broken transit boxes throughout the city as well as thousands of batteries needing replaced.
"We get what we refer to as a 'non-auto read' because we didn't get it off the computers and we have to go out there and achieve these readings," she explained.
On the day she presented the information to THA, Weldon claimed there were 165 pages of "non auto" reads, 42 items per page, and included what she called "a few malfunction pages. "
"That's roughly almost 7,000 properties out there that we're not getting readings on."
Weldon clarified there are very many reasons why a "non read" comes in because of the multiple components---meter, transit box, and batteries.
However, the increasingly frequent number of the non reads, as well as the reports of Water Bureau meter-readers are indicating that the problem is dead batteries in the transit boxes.
Weldon is estimating that 6000 batteries are out.
"This is just for knowledge. I'm not pointing the finger at anybody," she emphasized more than once, saying she did understand there are budget and money issues. Per Weldon, batteries cost $17.50 and a new transit box is approximately $300.
Weldon said it's causing the Water Bureau "a great big headache." With the inability to take remote readings, employees are being required to go out and take the readings inside residents' homes. Weldon claimed some residents have said they were asked to take their own meter reads and submit the numbers on their bills.
At the meeting, no one talked how much it is costing to be unable to access thousands of meters remotely. The cost of this problem is a prime concern to the Harrisburg Authority who owns the water system and receives revenue from it.
THA has a management agreement with the City of Harrisburg, and it is the City's responsibility to manage device maintenance and repair. If the system is less efficient, the revenue is less, too.
When asked about Sue Weldon's public statements on January 23rd, Shannon Williams, Executive Director of THA said the Authority was taking the assertions seriously. "THA is investigating the claims made at the public meeting. We have to ensure no revenues are lost as a result of inaction, and we have to reduce the number of non reads."
Click the icon above to watch Sue Weldon's public comments at the January 23, 2013 Harrisburg Authority Board meeting.
by Tara Leo Auchey
photo by Natalie Cake