BY NANCY GAGNET | MIRROR REPORTER — Over 3,000 property owners in the city of Maumee are currently in need of new water meter batteries and nodes for their automated water meter systems.
Further, there are more faulty batteries being reported each day, which adds to an already backlogged list of replacement work.
Tim Walborn, assistant superintendent for the Division of Water, has been handling the issue for the city. Much of the problem, he said, stems from the fact that the Mueller Systems batteries and nodes, which were installed in 2013, failed much earlier than anticipated.
“The city was caught off guard because the batteries were supposed to last 10 to 20 years and they died after seven years,” he said. “We were three years premature of what we were expecting to get out of them, and we didn’t have inventory so we weren’t ready.”
Over the past several weeks, an inventory of new batteries and nodes have been delivered and plans are underway to ramp up replacement. Currently, 58 faulty water meters and nodes are changed out each week, but Maumee Mayor Richard Carr hopes to at least double if not triple that number. He has asked to have more city staff assigned to do the work. In addition, the city has contracted with Keystone, an outside firm that will also replace the batteries and nodes in the systems.
“We understand the frustration and we are addressing it,” Carr said.
Replacing the battery on each water meter system is not as simple as switching out AA batteries in a television remote control. In the case of the Mueller Systems batteries, each works to power the system and the node transmits the data to the city’s computer network. Therefore, when the old battery and node are replaced, the city’s system must be reprogrammed to make sure the new water meter data can be routed and read properly.
According to Walborn, even though many of the current batteries and nodes are faulty, the meter itself continues to read water usage, so when the batteries and nodes are switched out, an accurate reading can still be taken from the system.
“When people hear they are dead or faulty, they think the system is not reading and they are getting free water, but that’s not the case. The meters are still reading,” he said.
The problem is that the information is not being transmitted to the city, which is why estimated bills are being used to charge customers, he added.
“When we go to change out the battery, we get a reading that lets us know if we billed customers at an estimated rate that is either too high or too low,” he said. “So, we get an accurate number when we go change them out.”
All the water meters are located inside of houses, which means those conducting the work must access homes to make the switch. Residents can call the utility billing department at (419) 897-7125 to schedule an appointment and it takes approximately 15 minutes for the work to be completed. Those doing the work will have a picture ID with the contact information of three city staff members in case confirmation is needed.
As the city works to get the batteries and nodes replaced, the billing and utility department is also fielding hundreds of calls daily from concerned residents who are realizing a spike in water and sewer fees.
There are several reasons for increases, according to city officials. The estimated amounts may be incorrect, plus rate increases for water and sewer took effect in August. Those increases are attributed to a 20-percent increase in water and sewer fees imposed by the city of Toledo, which supplies water to Maumee. In addition, Maumee imposed rate increases for the services incurred when the water is received from Toledo.
Those hikes are needed to address the sewer situation in Maumee, which recently came to light when city officials realized that Maumee has been illegally discharging millions of gallons of raw sewage into the Maumee River because the aged sewer system is overburdened. After consulting with the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), several repair projects began in the city.
In addition to rate increases and estimated billing charges, some residents may also be paying a minimum water charge. In 2020, the practice of billing a minimum charge for water was repealed, but in August it was reinstated. The minimum water charge means that residents are billed for a minimum usage of 6,000 gallons per quarter, which costs $131, whether that amount is used or not. While most residents consume more than the minimum allotment, the policy is in place to cover costs associated with maintaining the water lines and the water tap, which city officials say must happen whether or not water is used in a building or home.
“It’s called readiness to serve,” explained city administrator Patrick Burtch. “Water and sewer systems have to be there, ready to be used, whether or not they are used – we still have to pay money to maintain the lines.”