Water customers in Zephyrhills could soon get a new billing system, with state-of-the art, cloud-based technology that can monitor for leaks and spikes in water usage.
The Zephyrhills City Council gave the green light to negotiate a contract with Fathom, an Arizona-based company serving 150 public water systems with more than four million meters.
City officials believe the new system can provide more accuracy and consistency in meter readings and billings.
Confidence in the city’s billing system has eroded in recent years because of inaccurate meter readings, broken meters, leaks that went undiscovered and other problems.
Residential and commercial customers have reported incorrect billing, including a $100,000 error in the Zephyrhills bottled water account.
“We have a large lack of confidence with a lot of our customers,” Zephyrhills City Manager Steve Spina told council members at the Jan. 25 meeting.
With Fathom’s new technology, Spina said, “We anticipate more accurate readings on our meters. We feel pretty confident in recommending it to you.”
If the contract is approved on Feb. 8, city officials will move forward with plans to buy 6,000 new meters for about $120,000.
The contract with Fathom would be for five years, with two opportunities for five-year extensions.
It would take about a year to transition from the current system to Fathom’s system.
Fathom would handle billing and provide access to a 24-hour call center in Phoenix or Atlanta, or both. There also would be Internet and mobile access to services, including payments through bank accounts, mail, telephone applications and credit card.
In-person customer service also would be available.
Current staffing at the city could decrease from about five employees to two employees, but no layoffs would occur, city officials said.
Instead, some employees could be transferred to other city positions.
The city’s 12,000 water customers get their drinking water supply from the Floridan aquifer.
Multiple public wells are permitted largely within the Hillsborough River Groundwater Basin.
The new system is expected to save as much as $1.6 million during a 15-year period, according to Fathom’s projections.
Because of startup costs, the city would likely break even the first year.
Projections show current revenue losses of about $800,000 annually would decrease over time to about $35,000.
Losses generally result from water loss from undetected leaks, incorrect accounts and write-offs of unpaid bills.
Fathom’s system reads meters 120 times a month to detect leaks, stoppages and other water-flow issues.
The overall cost savings projection seemed high to some council members, but negotiations with Fathom were supported unanimously.
“I think it’s going to bring benefits to the city to give this a shot,” said City Council Attorney Joe Poblick. “I believe we’re going to save money.”
All agreed that something must be done to replace the existing system.
“The current system evidently is failing us now,” said Councilman Lance Smith. “We need to make a change now. I like the technology.”
Everything is moving toward mobile devices and cloud technology, Smith added.
Councilman Alan Knight said the city should monitor the results, quarterly or monthly, to make sure of the new system’s efficiencies. “I want some accountability,” he said.
Published February 3, 2016