Rutland is halfway through the transition to new water meters and Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg said it is going smoothly — mostly.
The city is replacing all 6,200 meters as it converts to a new system similar to electric “smart grids” that will allow the Department of Public Works and users to more precisely track water usage. The city has contracted with Fathom Water Management to provide the system. As of Friday, Wennberg said they had completed 3,037 and were expecting to be done by the end of October.
The most mysterious hiccup involves a city resident getting more than 100 notices about changing the meter at a building she no longer owns. Val Fothergill said she just sold the property last month, so she would not have been shocked by getting one notice about it, but was surprised to receive, by her count, 169.
“I was excited when I first saw them,” she said. “I thought I was invited to 160 parties, but to no avail.”
More odd, she said, was that while all the cards had her street address and the name of the holding company through which she owned the property, many of them were addressed to towns outside Rutland. Some were nearby, like Killington and Clarendon, but one was addressed to Spokane, Washington. The ZIP codes were all Rutland, she said, so they came to her regardless of what town was listed.
Greg Brovelli, who runs USI, the company doing the installation on behalf of Fathom, said this had been the only error in the mailings, and that while they were still trying to figure out how it had happened as of Wednesday afternoon, his working theory was that a typo in a date had disrupted the functioning of a database.
“There’s a few other anomalies in here that throw a wrench in the works, like the Spokane, Washington, which makes no sense whatsoever,” he said.
Brovelli said the error resulted in other addresses in a batch with Fothergill’s not getting their notices, and that the company would rerun the batch and send the misplaced notices out by hand.
Wennberg said each user gets up to three notices telling them to schedule appointments to have their meter changed. The first two are post cards — the second more brightly colored than the first.
“The third is a strongly worded letter with my signature on it, probably assuring I will never successfully run for public office again,” Wennberg, a former city mayor, said.
Wennberg said homeowners who don’t have usable readers get charged a “schedule rate” based on the assumption they have two people living in each bedroom. For a three-bedroom home, he said, that comes to $714 a quarter. He said none of the people whose letters were mistakenly sent to Fothergill will wind up paying that rate because of it.
“The earliest the schedule rate would be applied would probably be the February bill,” he said.
Wennberg said the changeover is slightly behind schedule because of staffing problems. The city is hiring special workers for the project, he said, but it is a temporary, part-time job with no benefits.
“It’s a challenge to find folks who would be good at this kind of work who will do it for that time-frame,” he said, though he said they expect to be fully staffed for the first time next week.
The changeovers themselves, he said, have been going better than he expected, with “minimal complications.” Wennberg said the swap requires water to be briefly shut off, and it was expected they would periodically encounter defective valves and need to dig up connections for repairs.
“We’ve had to dig up about 20 of them,” he said. “I would have expected about four times that amount, five times that amount. ... We’ve been very fortunate that the infrastructure has been kind to us throughout all of this. ... The hardest part, right now, is getting all the technologies to work together effectively. It’s very, very complicated stuff.”
Wennberg also said the system was getting an impressive level of buy-in. He said 12% to 13% of customers typically sign up to monitor their water use online in the first year. In Rutland, he said, they are already at 26%.
“It is the most user-friendly, the most helpful, the most intuitive — you don’t have to be a computer scientist to use this thing,” he said. “It’s very, very well-designed.”