Meter plan looks to be good investment

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 8, 2010

Mark White sits behind his desk at the Ironton water plant, carefully thumbing through a healthy stack of work orders, repair projects and things that just need to get done.

The problem is that there just are not enough hours in the day.

The water department employees get bogged down with the things that “have” to get done and don’t get to spend nearly as much time on the things that “need” to get done.

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White oversees the city’s water system and faces the constant challenge to juggle a bevy of different priorities.

From installing new meters to replacing bad ones to repairing water lines and running new lines, the list goes on and on.

White has been one of the most vocal advocates for a project the city is considering that would replace the water meters throughout the city with new electronic models.

Expected to cost $1.4 million with 30 percent coming from the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency, White says this will add up for the city and for the citizens.

“We have to invest in our infrastructure,” he said. “I work for the mayor but I am here for the citizens of Ironton and I am looking out for their well-being. I’m not going to do anything that will cost them.”

White and long-time city employee Kenny Miller sat down recently to talk about the benefits of this meter project and how they believe it will pay off in the long run.

The bottom line is that there are countless meters in the city that either aren’t working or aren’t working correctly. This project would address that and eliminate lots of human error, White says.

Taking exception to a recent Tribune article that questioned how the city workers would be utilized, White showed that he has a clear approach.

That plan involves doing all the little things that the city needs to do to invest in its infrastructure but simply isn’t doing right now because the time is not there.

Although it is difficult to quantify the exact amount of savings the water meter replacement project would generate, White is adamant it won’t cost citizens more money.

He cites the move to replace the city’s water tank a few years ago as the fact that his track record shows when he says something is going to work, it will.

Prior to replacing the tank, the city was putting out 2.2 million gallons a day, with every bit of this being treated water. Now, the city is producing around 1.4 million gallons a day, saving on chemicals and man hours.

That is about 22.7 million gallons of water less each month.

But that doesn’t mean the city’s water problems have all been resolved. In fact, it isn’t even close.

The city is still losing more than 40 percent of the water it produces.

Where does that water go? Basically right down the drain.

Water leaks, bad meters and the aging infrastructure is causing this treated water to be lost.

Having these new water meters would cut the amount of man hours from six people working for at least a week —sometimes two — to read, re-read and repair water meters to one person one or two days.

That would free up those other five city workers to focus on the actual water distribution system.

It won’t be perfect and won’t happen overnight. White says it may take a year to get caught up with all the leaks, concrete repair, meter replacements and more.

The numbers seem to support that this will greatly benefit the city of Ironton because it will replace hundreds of water meters that either aren’t working at all or aren’t working properly.

But it may increase the cost for some individuals who are paying the incorrect amount right now.

That, too, would certainly be a big improvement for the city because it means everyone would be paying their appropriate share of the expenses.

White has a point that the city will only move forward if we invest in infrastructure and work to improve and grow the systems that are in place.

This is an investment the city should make, but the burden falls back on the council and the mayor to keep the plethora of other expenses on the water bill as low as possible.

Citizens want a solid infrastructure and want the city positioned for the future, but it cannot be such a hit to their pocketbooks that they won’t be living here to enjoy it.

Michael Caldwell is publisher of The Tribune. To reach him, call (740) 532-1445 ext. 24 or by e-mail at