More neighborhoods getting monthly water bills

Nov. 02, 2013 @ 01:45 PM

By year’s end, the city’s Water Management Department will be about halfway through with a move to begin sending customer a bill every month instead of one every other month.

Notices went out late in October to homeowners in south Durham’s Parkwood neighborhood that they’ll be among the latest city water customers to join the 38,000 or so that are already receiving monthly bills.

“We’ve been transitioning district by district by district,” said Vicki Westbrook, Water Management’s assistant director.

The move to monthly billing has paralleled work on replacing old water meters that city workers had to read by eye with new models that they can check by radio.

The meter replacements are supposed to be complete by mid-August of next year.

Officials hope to have all of the city’s roughly water 83,000 customers on a monthly billing cycle by November 2014, Westbrook said.

The meter replacements and change in billing cycle go hand in hand because the new meters are helping the city avoid having to pay more for meter-reading labor.

In fact, the replacements completed to date already have enabled the department to cut out all overtime costs related to meter reading, Westbrook said.

The switch to radio-read meters is, however, an expensive one that will cost the city more than $25 million. The project began in 2009 and the department will make the final payments for it in 2015.

Department managers launched the program in hopes of boosting efficiency of the reading process and of reducing billing errors, Westbrook said.

Switching to monthly billing, meanwhile, brings Water Management into line with the business practices of other utility providers, like Duke Energy.

It should yield benefits that include the quicker detection of water leaks that can cause a customer’s bill to mushroom, and a reduction in delinquent payments, she said.

There’s most always a bit of a lag between the time a neighborhood receives its new meters and the time officials switch it over to monthly billing.

After the new meters go in, there’s first a “period of verification and checking” as department managers test their accuracy, Westbrook said.

Changes to the billing software follow. To ensure a smooth transition and keep within authorized levels of staffing, the department doesn’t rush the work.

“It’s been a gradual process,” Westbrook said.