By AMANDA SMITH-TEUTSCH
The Niles Times
The first stage of a multimillion-dollar computer upgrade and utility modernization project is complete in Niles.
Niles Mayor Ralph Infante said last week the first stage of the IT project was complete, coming in at its budget of $2 million. Tom Telego, the city supervisor who is in charge of the project, said the next phase is about to get under way.
"All of our nodes are in place across the city, he said. We completed a three-month pilot program to make sure it would work."
Once all the technology is in place, the city will be able to read water and electricity meters remotely and bill customers automatically for their usage. The second phase of the project, the purchase and installation of the new meters, will cost approximately $3 million.
Phase One of the project focused on creating a wireless data network to cover the entire city of Niles and updating all of the citys various servers and consolidating them all from the different departments into one location. A disaster recovery backup site was also created at the Wellness Center; if the main servers go down for some reason, all of the citys data is automatically stored and transferred to the backup site.
New billing software was also purchased, along with online bill pay, auto withdrawals and a credit card system was purchased as well, Telego said.
Wireless Homeland Security cameras were installed, and new software is being implemented to allow the police officers to work from their cruisers, Telego said.
Telego said the new utility system will allow the light department to automatically spot areas of the city that lose power in storms, instead of having to go from pole to pole in neighborhoods where outages are reported. It also will allow the city to detect leaks and theft of utilities, as well as allow the city billing system to detect delinquencies one day past the due date instead of months later, he said.
In a news release, Infante said the city may consider agreements with other governments who want to access to the emergency backup system but don't have the money to spend on the initial investment.
The city has never replaced the electric meters, and last replaced the water meters in 1991, he said. Replacing the meters will lead to more accurate billing, and more revenue from the city
"When we replaced the water meters in 1991, we noticed a large jump in our billed water," he said. There had been an 18 percent difference in the amount of water the city was billed for from the Mahoning Valley Sanitary District to the amount of water it was getting paid for by customers. That dropped to a 10 percent difference after the new meters were installed, he said.
Annually, the city is paid $21 million for electricity and $7.8 million for water and sewer consumption, Infante said.
Infante said he hopes the new meters will be ready for installation on customers houses by fall. The project was approved by council in 2007.
The wireless hardware was built by Proxim Wireless Corporations, and installed by the light department and ALC of Warren. Networking infrastructure was provided by NetIT Solutions of Wadsworth.