Message from the Mayor
Providence Village friends and neighbors –
I am reaching out to you to shed a little light on an issue that our Town staff and officials are currently looking into. At the close of the June-July water billing cycle, there were several residents who had questions about their billing, which they believed was higher than usual, and some had question as to whether meters and billing systems are not accurately recording their usage. As discussions amongst neighbors continued and grew on social media, some people began to express concern that perhaps there is a widespread system issue that could be a root cause of these complaints. In the past week and a half, our Town staff has spent a large amount of effort and time in trying to determine exactly what is and what isn’t in play. Although work continues, I feel that it is appropriate to send an update on exactly what we do and don’t know, and explain some of what is being looked into.
First off, to put some numbers around the issue and help you understand what we are dealing with, there have been around 50 submitted inquiries for questions about bills, re-reads of meters, or tests of meters to check for accuracy. Given there are more than approximately 2281 current connections in the system, the total complaints as a percentage of all customers is right around 2%. While 2% may not be an overwhelming number, for those that believe they are affected by an error, resolution is of utmost importance and is being treated as such by Town staff.
Some of the resident requests expressed concern that perhaps the equipment being used by our current provider, Severn Trent, is giving inaccurate readings. As we consider that point, I think it is important to keep in mind that, except in cases of failed meters which have had to be replaced in the past year, all hardware being used today is the same hardware that has been in place for years, and at many homes, are the same meters that were installed at the time the homes were built. Although we have a new service provider, they are using the same meters that were in place previously under our previous provider.
Another issue that our staff has had to consider is somewhat of an inconsistent nature of the complaints that are being received, other than generally being in the area of consumption. For example, there have been some residents who normally use 4,000 to 6,000 gallons, who found that their usage was closer to 7,000. A handful of others are more extreme, showing dramatic changes in usage of several times over what previous usage may have been. With these wide differences, every single report is being dealt with on a case by case basis.
As of today, we have ordered numerous re-reads of meters by STS. In all but one case, we have found that the initial reading was consistent with the follow-up reading. The single anomaly in that process was found to have been a human error, as an electronic reading failed, and as the technician entered the usage manually, the numbers were inadvertently misentered. In some cases, STS has confirmed that usage was indeed higher than the resident had anticipated. In several instances, technicians have performed manual tests on meters to investigate whether the flow is properly being recorded. None of those tests have uncovered any kind of malfunction.
On a large percentage of connections in our system, “smart meters” exist, which can actually provide data that shows details of times and days when usage is occurring. In reviewing some of those cases, STS has been able to show customers specific periods of high usage to help them better understand how the total was derived. For example, this data can illuminate malfunctions of sprinkler systems when they are running at times which the resident was not even aware.
In parallel to the work being performed by STS to investigate complaints, our Town staff has reviewed the data on the amount of water entering and exiting the tower. We wanted to use this number to compare to the total amount of water that was individually billed. The reports show our usage totalled 35,208,000 gallons during this recent billing period. Over the same period, the total amount that was billed to residents and commercial connections across the system was 33,399,000 gallons. In any system, there is an acceptable percentage range of loss in the system, and ours is within that range. As you can see, however, the amount that is being billed is actually less than the total volume being brought into the system. If a systematic billing issue was in play, in which customers were being billed for more water than they had actually used, we would have expected to see the number coming into the system to be lower than the number that we had billed customers, which we don’t.
I want to be abundantly clear when I say that those who have expressed concerns are being heard. One of those concerns that we have heard has illuminated some communication problems that I believe can be improved with regard to interactions with both STS and with Town staff. Dealing with utility issues is often a frustrating endeavor at best, and we want to ensure that both Town staff and STS, who is working on the Town’s behalf, does what they can to reduce frustration felt by customers.
In summary, based on what we have seen thus far, we have no evidence to suggest that what we are seeing is a systematic failure of some kind. Does that mean there are no problems? Clearly not. However, what it does lead us to do is to continue dealing with customers on a case by case basis and working to determine if there are issues at their connection point. Town staff is committed to doing just that.
As always, if you have concerns, I encourage you to bring them to our Town Council, and to me directly. My email is email@example.com. I would also encourage you to attend our regular Town Council meetings on the 1st and 3rd Tuesday nights of every month at 7:30pm.
Thank you as always for the opportunity to serve you as Mayor,