Water was a primary topic at Frankford’s town council meeting this week — specifically, the issue of water bills.
Robert Murray, who has rental property in the town, asked what the problem was with the water bills and asked why they could not consistently come every two months.
“I need to know what the problem is. You guys need to come up with a system — either get Terry some help or something...” he said, referencing Town Clerk Terry Truitt.
He explained that he had just received a bill for his tenant for June, July, and August, and then September, October, November. “That’s back to back to back, when I haven’t gotten a bill in six months.”
He said he understood that the water bills were two months behind, as they cover water used for the prior two months, but said three months and bills not coming regularly was unacceptable.
“It’s scary to me. The tenants pay for the water,” he explained. “But if they don’t get a bill for six months... Things happen, toilets run, etc. — you just don’t know.”
Council President Jesse Truitt said they had lost a maintenance person and there was damage to the digital reader that does read some of the meters, and, he said, “Last time 90 percent had to be pumped out.”
Most of the meters in town are manually read, explained Terry Truitt, but about 25 percent can be read electronically. However the reading device had been damaged in prior months. She also explained that many water meters are in pits that have to be dug out if there is inclement weather or flooding. Jesse Truitt also said the availability of maintenance personnel was an issue.
“This year, we had three maintenance men. It’s a mess. But I understand where you are coming from,” he said.
He also said it would cost $100,000, to fix the water bill issue, referencing the money it might cost to convert the town over to all radio-read meters, which would cut down on time the process takes.
Murray said adding up the cost of water per month and multiplying it by the number of customers could almost bring in the money needed, if they did billing on time. “At $10,000 a month, and you are six months behind, that’s $60,000 right there.”
“How can we not get one in June, July and August, and then we’ll get one in December, January and February?” asked Murray about the bills.
Resident Greg Welch, who has brought up the issue of the irregularity of the water bills in years past, said, “The meters get read regularly. The read date is on there.”
“Well, it takes 10 to 12 days to enter those things in there,” interjected Jesse Truitt, adding that the system was “antiquated” and sometimes required a re-reading and then manually entering the readings on paper cards.
Resident Jerry Smith, who has also asked about the water bills in prior meetings, surmised that the reading wasn’t always the problem. “We have addressed this many times, and it has never been fixed. When you talk about the pits having to be dug out — that’s rare. Other times, they have been read and the bills didn’t go out.”
“We know you say Terry’s only one person, she can only do so much...” continued Smith.
Jesse Truitt reiterated that the billing was a “time-consuming job. As for a remedy, he said, the Town “will get on it.”
Another landlord property owner added that he “didn’t want to beat a dead horse, but I am here for the same reason. I am renting to a single mother with three children, on a fixed income. She’s only got so much to work with. And I had to present her with a $200-plus water bill at Christmas. If it’s a problem, maybe a part-time person could help.”
Jesse Truitt reiterated that the Town would look into it.
Terry Truitt explained that half of the town’s 375 water customers get their meters read in one month and the other half get read in the following month. Customers are billed for actual usage for the two months prior.
She mentioned things that can affect the readings, such as bad weather, having only one maintenance person manually reading the meters, sometimes having to dig out water-meter pits, having to sometimes re-read the readings, etc. She also said the manual system was time-consuming and antiquated. She said it can take three days to get the meters read and then the time it takes her to enter them into the system by hand.
“I don’t condone this way. I walked into it this way. It’s almost impossible to keep up with one person and one maintenance guy,” she said.
“When the books come into town hall,” she said of the books that the readings are recorded in, “it can take two days to manually key them all in. You are doing the reading, the previous reading, and between phone calls and people coming in, etc…. Then you have to generate the statements, fold them, stuff them and mail them out, and half the town has statements run, so now I have got to manually calculate finance charges, because no two water bills are the same. That’s another separate invoice...”
She said the Town has looked into grants for radio-read meters and software but said she, as a one-person office, is doing her best to keep the town running smoothly. She added that she has looked for grants to get the town “into the 21st century” and has had success with getting grants for things like the new park equipment. She explained that the Town will soon have the capability to take credit and debit cards — something they haven’t been able to do in the past.
“People not getting their water bills every 45 to 60 days is the least of my problems,” she said. “The council all get their water bills the same as everybody else... and if we need staffing... The problem is we have always been a one-person office.”
In nearby Dagsboro, Town Clerk Duane Kenton said they have nearly 400 water customers and their bills are scheduled to go out monthly. She said they also bill for actual usage and their meters are read around the 23rd of each month.
While the majority of Frankford’s meters are manually read, Kenton explained that all of Dagsboro’s meters are radio read. In addition to the town’s four police officers, the Town of Dagsboro employs Kenton and a town administrator, who, Kenton explained, is responsible for the water department and billing, among other things.