By Starrla Cray
HOWARD LAKE, MN Submitting a water meter reading to the City of Howard Lake is a task most residents do every month, but for some, automatic meter readings are making that chore a thing of the past.
So far, the radio-read water meters are only in new homes, but Public Works Director Tom Goepfert said he hopes they’ll eventually be installed everywhere.
“Personally, I’d like to see the whole town switch over,” Goepfert said.
Howard Lake started implementing the radio-read meters September 2004. Goepfert said he likes them because they are easier and more accurate than direct-read meters.
“We’ve been experimenting with these,” he said. “We’re trying to get more of these out there.”
The concept of automatic meters is simple: A hand-held transmitter “wakes” the meters from sleep mode and takes the readings, which can then be put directly into a computer. Each meter has a serial number to distinguish it from the others.
“Most towns are going to these now,” Goepfert said. “The bottom meter is exactly the same. The only difference is that it has a radio attached to it.”
The automatic meters also cost more. The city pays a one-time fee of $193 for each radio-read meter. Residents are charged $280, because of other associated costs.
Direct-read meters cost the city $60, and that is the amount residents pay, as well.
People with direct-read meters look at their water usage each month and submit the number to the city.
There are many disadvantages of direct-read meters, according to Goepfert.
Some people read the number incorrectly, and others fail to provide a reading at all, Goepfert said.
No-read water fee
There is a $20 fee each month if a reading is not submitted.
“It used to be $10, but they increased it last year,” Deputy Clerk Dawn Horst said. The city was hoping that an increase in fees would encourage more people to submit their readings.
“Believe it or not, people go a long time without checking it,” Goepfert said.
Last month, 93 households in Howard Lake were charged for not doing a reading.
“With the economy, it seems like it’s higher,” Horst said. People who aren’t paying their water bill also aren’t taking a reading, she explained. A payment is not necessary in order to do a meter reading, however.
“That’s what we try to tell them,” Horst said. “At least call in your meter reading.”
Residents can also drop off their reading in the night deposit box at the back of city hall.
Getting a meter reading only takes a minute or two, Horst said.
People who have their meter in a spot that’s difficult to access can purchase remote-read meter, which is $80 for both the meter and attachment. With this device, a homeowner can place the attachment anywhere in the house, so that they don’t have to go to the basement to take a reading.
If a household fails to submit a reading, the city has to estimate the usage for that month. Typically, the city will bill the residence based on the previous month’s usage, Horst said.
Doing a water meter reading is especially important in January, February, and March, she said, because those months are used to determine sewer bills for the remainder of the year. The first three months of the year are used because they are, on average, the months with the lowest usage, Horst said.
If a water meter reading is not submitted, the city’s estimates can be too high.
“That can throw your bill off,” Horst said.
Having accurate readings is also necessary for the city to report its usage to the state, Goepfert said.
“At the end of the year, I write up a report,” he said, which details how much water was sold, as compared to how much was pumped.
Average water use
Howard Lake pumps between 60 million and 70 million gallons of water each year.
The average Howard Lake household uses 4,500 gallons of water every month. The city charges $3.24 per thousand gallons of water.
“The bill for the actual water isn’t very high,” Goepfert said.
Sewer rates are a little more, at $5.48 per thousand gallons.
Sewer charges are based on water usage because houses would need a special meter in order to measure usage directly.
“It’s typically understood that what goes in also comes out of the house,” City Administrator Kelly Hinnenkamp said.
Because the amount is based on the lowest water usage months of the year, residents are not charged extra for watering their lawns or other summer water uses.
The base fees make up a large portion of what residents see on their water bills, Horst said. For water and sewer, the base fees are each $20.47, which means that even with no usage, residences are charged about $40 per month.