Port Orange blamed for water-meter woes

PORT ORANGE ¡ª An interim report by the project manager inspecting Port Orange¡¯s water-meter troubles blames the city in part for failing to establish routine guidelines for replacing units in the past.
"The meter-reading staff has been without interactive supervision or hands-on guidance and have developed self-made policies to try to please supervisors without a clear direction of what is the mission," said Ken Hooper, a retired engineer hired in mid-December to advise and assist Port Orange on meter replacement. "(The meter reading workers) are bogged down with the syndrome of ¡¯that is the way it has always worked.¡¯ "Hooper, a former Edgewater city manager, recently submitted to Port Orange officials a detailed four-page report on the water-meter system that included some reasons for the failures and offered possible solutions.
At tonight¡¯s meeting, the City Council is expected to discuss the results of Hooper¡¯s report, as well as a warranty and meter-replacement proposal from the city¡¯s main provider, Sensus, that originally was turned down.
City leaders also are moving forward to hire an independent, outside auditor to investigate water-meter billing gaffes by the finance department. In addition, there are about 3,500 meters that are broken or registered little or no water use in recent years that cost Port Orange as much as $2 million in lost revenue.
"The city has had no defined meter replacement program and is suffering from an accumulation of meters that have exceeded their useful life," Hooper said, adding it¡¯s common policy for cities to replace up to 10 percent of the system¡¯s meters annually, or about 1,800 in Port Orange a year. "The city has only reacted to problem meters (zero reads) and has not had an active renewal and replacement program."
He added the problem would grow by about 150 zero-read meters a month if no action is taken.
One of Hooper¡¯s suggestions is to develop a written set of policies related to water-meter installation, "exception list" investigation, zero consumption meter reviews and better training of employees for "consistent record keeping and verification."
Vice Mayor Don Burnette said Monday he was "taken aback" by Hooper¡¯s report since a meter replacement program "supposedly was in place that doesn¡¯t look like it was followed." Burnette said a meter¡¯s life generally is 10 to 15 years in the ground, and should be replaced well before 20, which hasn¡¯t been the case in Port Orange.
He said he hadn¡¯t fully read Hooper¡¯s report yet, given all the time spent in recent days with the five candidates for city manager. But Burnette was scheduled to meet Monday afternoon with Hooper to fully discuss the report, as were other councilmen individually.
Meanwhile, Mayor Allen Green said Monday the details of a contract could be finalized by the City Council tonight with City Manager-select Gregory Kisela. Ken Parker is retiring Feb. 28 after almost 29 years on the job. The City Council chose Kisela Saturday after a day of interviews with the five finalists.
Green said Kisela wants to start work as early as Monday so Parker is available to help make the transition as seamless as possible.
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