7,000 meters sit in Cincy

NILES – Nearly 7,000 water meters purchased by the city of Niles over the past four years have never been installed, and in fact, still sit in a warehouse in Cincinnati.

City officials say the meters have not been installed because they are incompatible with the inefficient billing software the city is using.

Records obtained by the Tribune Chronicle indicate the city entered into an agreement in October 2011 with Neptune Technologies of South Pallassee, Ala., to replace old water meters used in homes and businesses served by the city’s water department. Since then, payment reports show that Niles has purchased 8,620 meters at the cost of more than $1.5 million.

The new wireless-enabled meters were purchased with the intention of eliminating on-site meter readings, while also providing easier leak detection and water consumption data information to the city’s utility department.

In addition to the meters, the city also purchased nearly $350,000 in equipment designed to read the meters, including handheld readers and a variety of wireless equipment.

As of April 2013, however, only 1,770 of those meters have been installed at homes and businesses in the area. Records show the remaining 6,850 meters are stored, free of cost to the city, in a warehouse owned by Neptune Technologies in Cincinnati.

Niles Service Director Neil Buccino said that the holdup in installing the majority of the meters, is that the city is still in the process of replacing its inefficient utility billing software.

“The meters are paid for already and they’re going to be installed, but Neptune is holding them until we’re ready,” Buccino said. “It’s a software issue for us currently. We’re in the process of changing our billing from Cogsdale.”

Late in 2013, city council agreed to replace billing and departmental software that failed to meet the city’s needs. The software, which cost the city $225,000, was provided by Cogsdale Systems of Canada and city officials said that it was not suited to its utility billing needs.

These costs come in the wake of the city’s recent decision to raise its water rates. In February, the city raised the cost from $2.42 per 100 cubic feet (748.1 gallons) to $2.71 per 100 cubic feet, citing increased costs from the water it purchases from the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District.

Buccino said the city was aware of the problems with the Cogsdale-provided system as early as 2011, but that it had already begun the process of purchasing meters from Neptune. With payments already being made to the Alabama-based company, Buccino said the city made the decision to have future meters stored until the city had a proper billing system in place.

Earlier this year, council approved an agreement with Continental Utility Solutions Inc. of Jonesboro, Ark., for a replacement billing system. At a reported cost of $220,000, CUSI agreed to install and provide maintenance of a new utility system that city officials said is much better suited to their needs.

According to Buccino, the CUSI-provided software is not yet online, but he hopes the process will be completed soon. In the meantime, the city is making due with the already installed Cogsdale billing system.

“We take the reads off of the water meters and enter it into the billing software, and that’s how we do our billing,” Buccino said. “Until the new software is running, we’re holding off on installing the rest of the meters.”

Niles Mayor Ralph Infante said he agreed with the decision to hold off on installing the thousands of purchased meters.

“The Cogsdale system couldn’t do everything we needed, and CUSI has billing software that does,” Infante said. “The software is running right now, but it’s not online yet because (CUSI) is still gearing everything to what we need.”

Chairman of the city’s utility committee, Niles 4th Ward Councilman Ed McCormick, said all of the upfront costs will eventually benefit the city, although he expressed concern over the time it has taken the city to put a complete system in place.

“This is a big plan, and I am looking forward to seeing everything get utilized because it will save the city money,” McCormick said. “We have some meters already installed as a test run to get some bugs worked out, but I would like to see all of (the meters) installed. But we can’t rush things before they’re ready.”

Chairman of the city’s technology committee and 2nd Ward Councilman John Merlo could not be reached for comment.