Water Meter Size At Jail A Point Of Debate
While the building of the Valley County jail was finished three years ago, some kinks are still being cleared up.
The county commissioners were surprised at one point by the water/sewer rates and were looking for a way to lower the bill. But what ended up happening, created more of a mess for both the county and the city.
City officials said the building’s 3-inch meter was removed without proper approval, and the replacement meter was reduced in size in hopes for a smaller bill. The action went against city ordinance, which gives the city the right to supply and install a water meter. The action of removing or tampering with the meter could actually be considered a misdemeanor. A recommendation from the city water committee for a final decision on an action will take place at the upcoming city council meeting on April 7.
A recent change in rates, set by the EDU (Equivalency Dwelling Unit) has come into effect. It is a system that helped set the rates to help distribute costs for the new wastewater treatment plant (WWTP) after its upgrades. The water meter helps measure not only the flat rate that each user pays, but also the usage.
The new building of the Valley County jail was specified to use a 3-inch pipeline for water, with a 3-inch meter to help read the usage. Director of Public Works Robert Kompel explained that the flat rate for that size meter on a commercial building is set for $637.30 for the flat rate.
The 2-inch rate, meanwhile, sits at $284.57. Add that to the amount of water used for the facility and it could lead to a pretty big bill.
Commissioners inquired with the city on what they could do to move to a smaller meter to help cut their bill. Kompel said they needed to go through a process where engineers would ensure that a smaller meter wouldn’t cause damage to a waterline that was designed for a larger size meter and pipeline.
A letter from the commissioners to the city, dated in May 2013, included emails from the engineering firm and a local plumber. The engineers said that the smaller meter could have enough pressure to work properly, but at peak flows exceeding the recommended pipe velocity it could accelerate the erosion at the transition fittings at the water meter – meaning, that the county could see possible problems in the future with a smaller meter, in particular the 2-inch meter, but they said based on the velocity concerns they would not support a change to an even smaller 1.5-inch meter.
Later, a letter from Kompel back to the commissioners, dated in September 2013, gave an official response to the commissioners. Kompel stated that he disagreed with the assessment, pointing out that the Uniform Plumbing Code states that distribution systems are designed to be under conditions of peak demand. He also stated that the sewer and waste costs were based on the amount of occupancy and that the peak flow.
In this letter he also stated to the commissioners that the modifications had already occurred, without proper consent of the city. He said it is unlawful to tamper with a city water meter.
Proper removal of the meter also needed to go through the Montana Department of Labor and Industry, city officials said. The plumbing inspector for Glasgow, Brian Smith, explained that the approval for such a change would have gone through local jurisdiction. He said that he was unaware of the change and said that the permit for the change should have been pulled to ensure that all mechanical and building codes were followed.
Commissioners asked for a reduced price in their sewer/water rates after the change in the meter occurred. The city continued to charge the rate for a 3-inch meter. The issue was discussed a few times and in the past week it went to the city water committee.
On March 21, the committee discussed what had taken place. Kompel added that the jail usage had supported the 3-inch meter, using between 296,000 and 414,000 gallons in a month. City Clerk-Treasurer Stacey Amundson said at the meeting that she never lowered their rate because it was designed for the bigger meter.
Kompel added that other buildings with a similar capacity, such as the hospital, schools and Nemont Manor, were also designed for the larger meters. The new Irle Elementary School is also currently designed for a 3-inch meter.
The commissioners sent a letter to the water committee saying they agreed to pay for the 3-inch meter and that they hoped that Glasgow would only charge for their water usage. They also stated that they “fully realize that the meter was oversized in the original construction and have been advised by our engineer that a 1.5-inch meter would have been more than adequate.” This does not coincide with an email from engineer Kevin Pope, dated in September 2011, that was attached to their letter sent to the city in May 2013.
The commissioners then stated that the matter had closed and had become political in nature, and the issue was serving no purpose but to cause problems between Valley County and the city of Glasgow.
Those on the water committee expressed some concern. Melanie Sorenson said that she wanted to encourage the county to put the old meter back on the Valley County Detention Center, and that they seemed to have realized their mistake.
“They’ve kind of made a jumbled mess of it,” David George, an employee at the city water department, said at the committee meeting.
Sorenson suggested a letter to the commissioners to make them aware of the problem and encourage them to change the meter back. Workers from the water department also said that the larger meter might be more accurate in the readings for usage. City Council member Stan Ozark added that as long as it wasn’t causing damage to the city’s system, that the county should be left to deal with future consequences of the change in meter.
City Attorney Pete Helland was present and said that the letter should state the recommendations of the city and also add any potential threat or hazard to the county’s water system.
Mayor Becky Erickson noted that the county is still paying the 3-inch rate, and the cost of changing the meter had incurred them enough costs. She said that perhaps the change back to the larger meter should be left up to them.
George said that the design of the building had to do with everything being used at once, a maximum flow, and that while the smaller meter wouldn’t affect the city, it could affect the pressure flow of the jail if they reached their full potential in the future.
The final recommendation that will go to city council on Monday, April 7, was that a letter would be sent to the commissioners stating they would continue to pay the set rate and encouraging them to put the old meter back in place. Final action will depend on the decision of city council at that meeting.