New water meters to ease workload in Ocean Isle Beach

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

OCEAN ISLE BEACH—It takes five people and one week to walk house to house and read all the water meters in Ocean Isle Beach. It can take another week to manually enter the information into the computer’s system and billing program.

New radio-read water meters being installed will only require one person and one day of work, officials claim.

Larry Sellers, public utilities director, said every two months, five employees walk house to house and read the 2,928 meters in town. One employee manually enters all the information into a computer, making reading the meters a two-week process. Sellers said between 20 and 50 human errors could occur every read.

“You set yourself up for mistakes,” Sellers said.

Eliminating human error and speeding up the process has been something Sellers has wanted to change for several years, and radio-read meters, he said, are the solution.

To read the meters, a computer is placed inside a vehicle and an employee drives up and down each street, rather than walking house to house. The meters are recorded through radio waves sent to the computer inside the truck. They can be read from up to 50 feet away.

Sellers said once the entire town has switched to radio meters, the reading can be completed in one day.

Once the meters are recorded, the computer is brought back to the office and downloaded into a computer program in a matter of seconds. The program will also create a list of high-flow and low-flow areas, which will alert employees to areas that might contain leaks or be an indicator of a pipe burst.

“This is better for the customers,” Sellers said.

The town has purchased and installed 445 radio-read meters since July. It will continue to replace the old meters in phases as the town’s fiscal budget allows. Sellers said the meters are estimated to cost a total of $450,000, or $155 per meter.

The old meters cost about $40, but the town will save manpower hours by reducing the time it takes to read the meters.

“It’ll pay itself back in a number of years,” Sellers said.

Feedback from the community and town employees has been positive, Sellers said. Employees love it because it saves them time.

“The water department absolutely loves it,” Sellers said. “One boy told me, ‘This is the best thing you’ve ever done.’”

Driving up and down the streets rather than walking throughout the town also helps keep employees safe, Sellers said.

Tracy Strickland, public utilities clerk, is responsible for typing in the data from the reads, and said the new system saves her more time than she realized.

“It’s downloaded in seconds when typing all of it in takes days,” Strickland said. “It’s the neatest thing ever.”

Kathryn Jacewicz is a staff writer at the Beacon. Reach her at 754-6890 or at kjacewicz@brunswickbeacon.com