No more estimating city water bills in the dead of winter. No more trudging through yards, checking meter pits and fighting off animals and the elements.
The City of Greencastle is closing in on completing a two-year project in which the utilities department has replaced some 3,700 water meters with a radio-read system in which water meters can be read electronically from a passing vehicle.
The changeover not only means more accurate readings but faster service, City Utilities Superintendent Richard Hedge told the City Council Tuesday night.
"This speeds things up tremendously," he said, noting that fewer than two dozen meters remain to be changed out by city workers.
Old meters historically tended to turn slower as they aged, Hedge said, which likely means less water usage was being documented than actually was consumed. And that means less revenue for the city.
The new metering system also means the entire city can now be read by one meter reader in one day, Hedge said, noting that the effort previously took three employees a minimum of three days.
Hedge called the one-time expenditure for the new radio-read system "a good investment."
Coupling money that had been set aside for meter repairs with other financed funds to pay for the project, the total cost was in excess of $450,000, Mayor Sue Murray said.
That expenditure, however, should be balanced by cutting personnel costs with no need for more than one meter reader, and the recovery of unaccountable water charges that had been lost by the slower-turning old meters.
The city initially saved a considerable amount, Hedge said, by purchasing the meters all at once and changing them out with city personnel rather than contracting out that work.
"Our staff has been changing them out as we go," Hedge told the Council, indicating that alone was "a tremendous cost savings."
Hedge reasoned that city employees' time would have been involved even if the installation had been contracted out. He said city workers still would have had to accompany the crew doing the changeovers to help locate the residences and the meters.
Hedge explained that a meter reader can now drive down one street and the system can electronically read the meters for three blocks in either direction in dense neighborhoods.
"We'll even be able to read the meters after an ice storm." Hedge noted, explaining that the icy weather in February 2011, for example, required the Water Department to send out estimated bills because the meters could not be checked.
Another benefit from the new equipment, the utilities superintendent said, is that it stores data that can be downloaded at any time to check a resident's usage and help with leak detection.
"It's a great service, a great savings, and it helps our people," Council President Adam Cohen praised.
In other business, the City Council:
-- Unanimously passed resolution 2012-4, declaring the FB Distro property at 1901 E. State Road 240 an economic revitalization area as the first step toward the formal request of tax abatement on a new distribution project the company announced March 7. By 2014, the changes and additions to the plant will mean 135 additional jobs, company officials said. FB Distro officials are expected to appear at the April Council meeting to formally request abatement.
-- Passed on first reading Ordinance 2012-2, amending the zoning map from PB (Professional Business) to XD (Mixed Density Dwelling) to accommodate a planned 94-unit market-rate apartment development proposed by Emmert Group, Brazil, on 7.66 acres off Tennessee Street.
The zoning change was unanimously approved at the February City Plan Commission meeting. If the Council adopts the ordinance on second reading next month and all else goes as planned, Emmert envisions getting a mid-summer start with a nine-month construction cycle. Plans call for 50 percent two-bedroom units, 30 percent three-bedroom and 20 percent one-bedroom apartments.
-- Approved street closings as requested by DePauw University for its annual commencement ceremonies on Sunday, May 20 and practice and set-up on May 18. The closings are identical to those of the last several years, involving Simpson Street (Locust to Spring), Hanna Street (Locust to College) and College Avenue at Olive Street.
-- Heard Park Director Rod Weinschenk report that the application process for summer positions at the park and pool (maintenance, concessions and lifeguards) has begun following publication of a help wanted ad in Monday's Banner Graphic. Applications are available at City Hall and online at the city's website, cityofgreencastle.com.
-- Heard Department of Public Works Supt. Brad Phillips report that the mild winter has resulted in very little overtime being logged by his crews. Asked by Councilman Cohen about what happens to all the salt and related road chemicals that have gone unused this year, Phillips replied, "We stockpile it." He also assured the chemicals will be perfectly good next year or November or December this year if needed.
Mayor Murray conducted the one-hour meeting with Council members Cohen, Jinsie Bingham, Mark Hammer and Phyllis Rokicki, Clerk-Treasurer Lynda Dunbar and City Attorney Laurie Hardwick also attending. Councilman T. J. Smith was absent.
The Council's next regularly scheduled session will be at 7 p.m. Tuesday, April 10 at City Hall.