The stricter new Magnolia water billing guidelines that began in November will not be fully enforced this month, due to a billing delay at the city’s water office.
Stated Thursday morning during a Magnolia City Council Finance Committee meeting, Mayor Parnell Vann said a printer glitch this week caused the problem.
“Bills went out later,” he said. “We’re not going to shut people off.”
Beginning Nov. 1, 2018, the city began a practice of no longer issuing past-due notices or notifying water customers of a missed payment by way of a courtesy call. Instead, water is shut down if the local water office has not received payment by its due date and will not be activated again until the following business day.
The mayor also wanted to notify the public that, during a regular month without a delay at the water office, bills arriving late, due to postal delays, are not because of the city.
“The post office has not been kind to us,” he said. “We’ve got people not getting their bills and not getting their mail.”
The mayor added that he has spoken with the postal service about the issue but once mail is out for delivery they no longer have any control over the matter.
Water billing since the stricter November-implemented policies have netted more shutoffs than before. Per week, the mayor said, about 85 meters are now turned off. But the policies have not stopped all water shenanigans. The city is still seeing a water loss in some areas, mostly due to meter deception and water thefts.
Parts of Wards I and II in Magnolia have seen the most water thefts and suspicions meter activity, according to the city. Some instances involve using “jumpers,” or tying into one water line then splitting it and running the water to another home or homes. Other instances include residents modifying their meters so they do not register usage, then moving them back to normal just before the meters are read by city water meter readers.
“We’re doing a loss study right now, and just in the two months we’ve been doing it, we’re at a 20-plus percent loss right now,” said Vann. “… Just over the course of a year, that’s a lot of money.”
The mayor last year brought up the idea of installing a meterless reading system for parts of the city — which in time could lead to the method being spread to all parts of the municipality — and again mentioned the concept Thursday.
The meterless system would use wireless technology to instantly take a reading, then have the city would have the ability to remotely shut down or activate a system, if required.
“It will bounce off a tower, come right into the water office, then we can push a button from the office and turn the water on or off,” said Vann. “It will give you accurate readings.”
The mayor said that, if for some unforeseen reason, the water meter is damaged, the system would take that into account as well.
“If you run over the meter box with your lawnmower, it will send a signal and we can come out and see what you’re doing,” he added.
The mayor also said the plan to install the new system would virtually pay for itself by eliminating the water lossage. The device also has a 15-year warranty and could be funded through a multi-year payment plan.
“If it works, we’ll do the rest of the city,” he said.