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Investigation points to obsolete software, equipment issues

Meter reading issues

The King George Service Authority Board last week heard what’s happening with an investigation it had ordered in September to address some reported meter reading discrepancies.
The investigation was sparked by complaints during public comment time at a meeting in September from three Chatham Village subdivision residents who raised questions about discrepancies between their own readings of their meters and the meter readings reported on their bills.  
Donita Harper, Deputy County Administrator & Director of Finance, had been tasked by County Administrator Travis Quesenberry to head up the investigation.
Harper’s second report to the authority took place at a Service Authority meeting on Oct. 19.
The members of the Service Authority are the same members as those on the Board of Supervisors.
Harper said the process improvement team she had put together was continuing a review of the meter reading, data recording process, and other aspects of the system, using a process of elimination by testing each element of the process, one-by-one.

The first step was to open each meter box and check the meter reading against the read-out on the touch-pad wands.  She had reported on Oct. 5 that those had matched.
The second step that Harper reported on last week was to test the wireless equipment.
A wireless device is employed to load the wand readings into a handheld device that is subsequently taken to the office and downloaded onto a computer to be used in the billing process.   
Harper said readings were taken on the full Chatham Village route and some problems were experienced with equipment sometimes providing readings from an adjacent address.
Harper said they will send the file to the software vendor to see if it contains some corrupt data.
She also indicated there were several other steps that would be taken.
Those include software updates on both the wand reading system and the meter reading software on the computer.
In addition, Harper said they also identified some older obsolete equipment issues that need to be addressed.
“We had a maintenance agreement, but the equipment wasn’t being updated, so we have some issues there, and some process things we have to address,” Harper said.
Chairman Dale Sisson queried, “So the bottom line is that some of the data did not transfer properly?”
Harper said that had been discovered, but they weren’t done yet, noting they were continuing to test.
Joe Grzeika asked that the same process she had described be also performed in other parts of the county.
“I think you probably need to do one or two, just to make sure. There is a problem out here.”
He added, “I’d like to know that we’ve looked at different ends of the county because I’m thinking there’s some other stuff there that you’ve got to take a look at and make sure.”
Grzeika reminded Harper that there was a problem had been identified by customers, saying, “This problem wasn’t identified internally, it was identified externally, so we’ve got to make sure we take a broader view.”
Sisson agreed, adding, “That’s really the independent element for defining the evaluation.”

PREVIOUS STEPS    
It was previously reported earlier this month by Harper that as an additional check for meter reading discrepancies, Quesenberry has assigned the county inspector to randomly read meters around the county.
Harper had also said that any new inquiries are also being looked into by the county inspector, which provides independence from the readings by the Service Authority.

DO IT YOURSELF TIP    
It should be noted that if Service Authority customers want to verify their own meter readings against those in billings, they should be aware that meters have one or more “fixed” zeroes, which can cause confusion.
This means that in addition to the numbers on the dial that change as water is used, depending on the meter type, there are one or more fixed zeroes at the end of the dial that must be included in the reading by customers who make comparisons to their Service Authority bills.


Phyllis Cook
Staff reporter

 

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