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City looking into water meters

Ironton Public Service director Brett Thomas says the city is currently looking into 630 zero read water meters that were discussed at the Sept. 26 meeting of the city’s finance committee.

“First, this doesn’t mean that there are 630 broken water meters,” he said.

He said this can occur when a home uses less than 1,000 gallons and is billed the minimum bill.

He said this is not necessarily out of the ordinary.

“We have people who get billed zero every month,” he said. “It’s not uncommon.”

Thomas said the city has started a process to look into the matter.

“We’ve done research and are looking to see how far back they’ve been billed the minimum bill,” he said.

He said, in this research, they have found a few that are broken, but an exact number would not be available until the examination is complete.

The city has 4,700 water meters, so the 630 account for about 13 percent of those in in Ironton.

Thomas also noted that residents would still pay a flat fee, if they had used the less than 1,000 gallons.

Thomas said a broken water meter was discovered six weeks ago after a customer complained.

It was shortly after that, he said, that he heard from city finance director John Elam about the sale of water being down.

“I said ‘We may have a few broken meters,’” he said.

He said that meters are under warranty and they have someone on site to do replacements.

He said, right now, his workers are going out and checking each, one by one.

Chris Haney, a candidate for Ironton City Council, raised the issue at The Ironton Tribune’s candidate forum last month, and released a video on Facebook regarding the situation.

He called it the “most glaring” example of government not being efficient and had attributed to “malfunctioning water meters” and expressed concerns for possible lost revenue.

Haney cited a figure of $300,000 in lost revenue, which he said was mentioned in the finance meeting.

Thomas said this could be due to several factors, such as Hecla Water not buying as much water as in previous periods.

“And we can’t control the amount of water people use,” he said.

Thomas said broken water meters could be a factor in the number, if there were hundreds out, but he said he is confident from what he has seen so far that this is not the case.

He said he has spoken with Haney about the issue.

“We both agreed that we don’t have 630 broken meters,” he said.

Haney spoke with The Ironton Tribune and said “the city has to do their end” in finding out how many could be broken.

He said he pointed out in the video that some of these meters may read zero because they are rental properties or currently unoccupied.

“The fact is, there’s still $300,000 in lost revenue,” he said, noting that meters are running the average amount. “If you just divide in half 4,000 gallons used, that’s $1,200 per household.”

Haney said that Elam said in the finance committee that 60 percent of the meters in question should have water going through them.

“I don’t think the city truly knows how many there are,” he said of possible broken meters.

Elam spoke with The Ironton Tribune and said when he raised the issue at the finance committee meeting, he was pointing out that things needed looked into.

“Nobody is trying to hide anything,” he said. “And I think some people are blowing this up exponentially.”

He said the $300,000 is an overall adjustment for the budget, of which $200,000 is concerning the water department.

He said his concern of possible broken water meters is merely “a hypothesis.”

“Once they go out and start inspecting, we’ll know,” he said, adding that he expects results within a month. “We have to do the inspections to prove a hypothesis.”

Elam said 100 percent of meters should have volume going through them, but stressed that meters reading at zero may have volume going through them, but not hitting the 1,000-gallon mark.

“They could have a reading after three months,” he said.

He said the city is being proactive in looking into the issue.

“They’re checking to see if things are reading improperly or incorrectly,” he said. “It’s very timely.”