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New meter conversion near finish
Electronic devices will be used to save time, money

COVINGTON - The city of Covington is wrapping up the conversion of its meter reading system. Once the conversion is complete, meter readers for the city won't even have to leave the comfort of their vehicles - they'll take readings simply by driving through a neighborhood.

The new radio read meters will use a mobile meter-reading unit with a transmitter that picks up readings as it passes by each location.

"This type of reading was selected because we have multiple types of meters - water, gas and electic - and we found the best technology to cover all of those," said Bill Meecham, the city's gas and utilities director.

The result is "we can get our meters read in a lot more timely manner," said Public Works Director Billy Bouchillon.

It took just a circle through a new apartment complex to get a reading on all 150 active meters, according to Meecham.

In addition to being a time-saver, the new system is expected to save the city money by providing more accurate readings and reducing necessary manpower.

"This will reduce the need for people to read meters on site because it's a direct electronic read, and there's no chance for a mistake by keying in the wrong figure on a handheld computer," Meecham said.

At least one or two meter-reading positions have already been cut, and the staff will likely be further reduced, Meecham said, but added that "this is not a layoff situation."

Employees will be moved to other positions within the city or their positions will simply not be replaced if they should quit, he said.

The city has had reports showing lost or unbilled revenue, which might be the result of human error, and the new system should correct that as well, he said.

In addition, the system should make billing cycles more consistent. Reading delays due to bad weather or holidays should no longer be a problem, Meecham said.

The city spent about $1.04 million on the conversion through fiscal year 2007. Spending estimates for the 2008-09 budget year are at $1.1 million, putting the total project cost at at least $2.1 million.

The meter conversions have been taking place over the last two years, and the hope is to have the process completed by October, according to Bouchillon.

About 70 percent of water customers are already on the new system, he said, including all customers located outside the city limits.

On the gas and electric side, more than half of all meters have been converted.

"There have been change outs that have been conducted over a period of time, but we've stepped up the pace recently. The goal is to try to get it done as soon as possible," Meecham said.

Crystal Tatum can be reached at crystal.tatum@newtoncitizen.com.