Mayor’s corner: The latest on the water meters

Tyler Warman
Mayor of Slave Lake

If you haven’t read my first two columns on this issue you should go read them first. They can be found on the Town’s website.

If you have been following social media over the week you may have noticed that people have expressed concerns over a decision made at the February 20th council meeting.

Council, and Administration has learnt from water chloramination, that residents of this town are deeply passionate about water. When it comes to leading a community, I understand that good communication is a part of our success.

My goal, as your Mayor, is not to have everyone agree with every decision but it is important everyone understands why council made it. There have been a lot of people wondering why we came up with a system that was so unfair. The system that was passed at the last council meeting took the entire volume of water that is needed for the Town, and spread the cost equally amongst all users. The thought was everybody paying the same amount still wasn’t perfect, but was doable.

Another option that was presented was to have everybody pay different amounts, which we heard loud and clear from residents they thought was more fair. If you read the comments on Facebook you might think just using historical data wasn’t considered as an option. That option seems like an easy choice, but let’s take a few minutes to tell you why it isn’t. When trying to deal with this issue we have two huge obstacles. One is supply and the other is data that constantly changes. First off, these meters were largely installed between 2015 and 2016. The batteries of the water meters keep dying and we had to replace the whole unit. Slowly a flood of meters began failing, and the issue has been growing since last fall. The company said they would warranty the water meters, and we were promised new ones in December.

We were originally promised 500 new units in December, but only 50 new ones showed up.

By the time council made its decision on the 20th of February, the problem had ballooned to over 1,000 failed water meters. Administration and council had no idea when the remaining replacements would arrive.

Whatever decision council chose would be a temporary, short term solution, but would still be in place for several months. Even if we got all the meters tomorrow, it will take us several weeks, if not months, to change them all and we anticipate we will have to change all of them not just 1,000 or more that have failed to date, because the ones still working will fail.

So why not just use historical data? There are several challenges with this approach. One issue is that not every account has historical data (for example you may have moved into your house last month, so no data would be available for your account). Some of the accounts, that have faulty water meters, have been estimated for the last several months. Another issue is equipment. Some residents have found leaks, and changed equipment, so their historical data has fluctuated. Others have developed leaks and have not fixed them.

Going forward, if someone says they fixed the leak, do we just say ok, or ask for an invoice? Holidays play a huge part as well; people gone for a month last year have no data; are they going to be gone the same time frame this year? What if they are gone this year and were not gone last year? Do people just tell us and we say ok? Do we ask for plane tickets? Do we say too bad? What about family size? Some families get bigger; others get smaller. What month did they get smaller last year? Which data do I use? What if they get smaller this year? How much do we credit them? What if they install new water-saving toilets this year, shower-heads, and faucets? How much do we adjust their bill moving forward? Now what about when somebody moves? A house of four becomes two. A house of two becomes six. How do we keep track of that, know how many people lived in it and adjust accordingly?

More than anything, how do we justify and prove any number we come up with…. because we will be challenged on our math. Dealing with one account is easy. Dealing with approximately 2,100 ever-changing accounts can be and potentially would be challenging for administration. And ultimately it’s not a question of whether or not we want to put in the work, but it’s a question of is this even possible.

This is what we debated Tuesday. By Friday, we heard go try harder. One recent change that is a huge help is 200 meters showed up on Thursday. If we were to try the historical method, these could be used to concentrate on move-outs where meters are not working. This would be a huge help. Additionally council, along with administration, had a conference call with the metering company Friday afternoon and after some heated debate, the company has committed to 1,000 meters in May, and later this week provide us with an update on delivery of another 1,000.

This is huge progress… if they are able to meet their commitments. Additionally this week we are going to look a little harder at the other issues with using historical data and see how we overcome them.
In the end whatever solution we come up with will be temporary.

We heard historical data is where you would like us to settle, and we are willing to explore this possibility. In the end even if we settle on that option, it will take some support from you as residents to make it work.

In some cases we have good data and will be able to figure out a number that makes sense. In other cases we are going to have to throw a dart and get as close as we can to the center and both agree to live with it.

That being said, if we are fighting residents every step of the way we are going to have to look again at an average method not largely because it’s more fair to individual users, but because its more justifiable. I say this not to discourage residents from speaking up, or questioning what we do.

I say it simply to acknowledge that whatever temporary solution we come up with won’t be perfect, and will have flaws.

I simply ask that we agree to work together, to compromise, to agree to an imperfect system that we can temporarily live with.

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