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The city of Granite Shoals is on the clock to find another software company with the cellular technology capable of getting accurate water meter readings for billing. Councilors on Oct. 26 voted to hire engineering company Performance Services Inc. to examine its water meter reading system as the first step.

During the City Council meeting Tuesday, City Manager Jeff Looney shared an email he received from RG3, the company that installed wireless water meter reading technology six years ago. 

In the email, the company’s representative, Lee Gregory, outlined the problem. AT&T is shutting down its 3G network by February 2022. The city’s water meter cellular system relies on the AT&T 3G network to operate properly. 

“(AT&T is) not going to support it anymore in the future,” Looney told the council. “So our water meter reading system inside and outside becomes obsolete. For the sake of trying to do this the right way, we got Performance (Services) on the phone.”

Performance Services specializes in energy-saving projects in solar and water. The company can examine the meter reading system, find what works and doesn’t, and locate companies capable of getting the city’s water meter reading technology working again. 

Performance Services is paid from “water accuracy,” Looney said, which means it will be compensated through increased precision of the water bills the city sends. If city leaders choose not to go with any of Performance Services’ recommendations, Granite Shoals will pay $24,989 for the examination of its system and the work done to develop a list of technology companies.

“They’ll look at the data and bring the best possible network solution to us,” Looney said. “We don’t have to pay Performance anything (if we follow its solutions). They’re going to do this because they’re confident they’ll get their money. If the meters are that accurate, (the company’s compensation) comes from newly realized revenue.”

Looney noted that city staff began looking at the “smart” water meter models before he became city manager. In 2015, after a two-year study, the City Council approved buying 2,300 smart water meters to replace current meters at $560,000 without passing the cost to residents. At the time, former City Manager Ken Nickel said the accuracy of the readings “will cover the cost of the meters.” 

While the water meters are owned by the city, the cellular technology that gives the water meter readings to the city’s billing system is owned by RG3. And what wasn’t made clear six years ago was the importance of the AT&T 3G network. 

“We bought in a different technology level,” Assistant City Manager Peggy Smith told councilors. “There is no conversion for what we currently have.” 

Looney compared what the city is experiencing with the water meter readings to homeowners who choose home satellite services.

“At first, they give you huge receivers,” he said. “Then, you got to go to this new receiver because the old one is obsolete. We have to put in a new box and put in new heads on every single meter. We put in a new top on it so it can talk to a new box.”