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Council airs concerns over water losses

Water losses for the City of Cairo reached an all-time high in April with 20,011 gallons lost or unaccounted for. The previous largest monthly loss was 18,659 gallons in August 2010 and the lowest level in the last several years was recorded back in January 2013 at 2,160 gallons.
“We’ve been talking about this for years. We’ve got to do something. It’s time to get serious about our water losses,” Councilman James H. (Jimmy) Douglas said Monday night while discussing the matter.
In April, the city recorded pumping 51,605 gallons of water, but only charged customers for 31,594 gallons, which resulted in a loss of 20,011 gallons.
The month prior, in March, the city pumped 42,673 gallons and billed out 26,945 gallons for a loss of 15,728. The losses have climbed steadily for the last four consecutive months.
City officials had anticipated losses going down once the new water treatment plant at the Cairo Municipal Airport went online, but that has not been the case and city officials cannot explain why.
Officials had said that faulty metering and valves at the city’s MacIvor Drive plant likely contributed to the loss, but since all water production and treatment has been shifted to the new plant where there is all new equipment that can no longer be used as an excuse.
“I know it seems like we’re making excuses and the problem is getting worse. I’m concerned, too. It just doesn’t make any sense. We’ve got to get some outside help in here to help us address the situation. I can’t explain why the losses are continuing to increase even after putting the new plant online,” Cairo City Manager Chris Addleton said Tuesday.
The city’s new $4.1 million airport water plant, which has arsenic treatment capabilities, went online Wednesday, Dec. 21, 2016.
Pumping and treatment at the MacIvor plant has ceased as the city prepares to invest approximately $2.5 million in it and install arsenic treatment capability at that plant, as well.
“Obviously, the issue wasn’t with the MacIvor Plant meters. It’s been going up every month since we converted over. We’ve got to get serious about this and make a concerted effort to try and figure out where the leaks are or where the losses are coming from. I don’t know the solution, but I do know we’re pumping and treating a lot more water than we are selling. Pumping and treating through the arsenic treatment process also costs the city a lot more,” Douglas said.
The city manager announced that he had budgeted $25,000 in the 2017-2018 budget to contract with a consultant to assist the city in addressing its water losses.
The city council previously approved the purchase and installation of new “smart meters,” which allow for meters to be read remotely. Addleton believes once the new AMI meters are installed and the new infrastructure is in place billing may increase and additional leaks may be identified.
“It’s just a hope, however,” Addleton said.
The city manager said the city has recently identified two large leaks, but the losses far exceed the water lost from the recently found leaks.
“I don’t think the AMI meters will cut that much off our losses. The meters we have are pretty accurate, you’ll just be reading them differently,” Douglas said.
Councilman Douglas wondered out loud if it could be possible a large water user is not being billed or there is a service with no meter within the city.
“I believe the AMI meters will help us ferret some of that out,” Addleton said.
The city manager said, once the new infrastructure for the new “smart meters” is installed, the city would be able to easily complete evaluations and identify leaks.
According to the city manager, the new “smart meters” will be installed beginning in July.
While reviewing reports from other city departments Monday night the council also:
Discussed the amount of overtime for the city police department during the month of May. Councilman Jerry Cox questioned 23 hours of overtime for the recent Cairo High School Red & Black football scrimmage in addition to 23 hours for the Antique Car Rally; 21 hours for the CHS graduation; and 10 hours for the Jackie Robinson Boys and Girls Club 5K Run. “Does the school request we have officers there or is it something we think we need to have officers there?” Cox asked. Addleton said those decisions are made in consultation with the police chief. “It’s certainly something we’d like to cut back if we could,” the city manager said. Cox said that overtime is one of the most difficult things for managers and department heads to manage, but he encouraged the city manager to remind all department heads that the council is concerned about overtime. “We need to make sure it is productive overtime,” Cox said. The council also discussed the fact that the city should not bear all of the cost of police protection at special events sponsored by local nonprofit organizations such as the Boys and Girls Club.
Discussed overtime in the fire department. “Just because they are 200 percent over budget I hope we didn’t just increase the overtime budget for the fire department,” Councilman Douglas said. The city manager said the $20,000 budget for fire department was too low, but Douglas claims it has been $20,000 for several years and had been sufficient in prior years. Councilman Cox said that city volunteers are also used to fill in to reduce overtime expenses and to give the volunteers the opportunity to earn credit for service/training. Cox asked for the council to be provided a monthly report on the number of overtime hours that are saved by utilizing volunteers with the fire department.
Discussed striping on U.S. 84 and handicap ramps installed on the highway. Councilman Ernest Cloud asked if more work was to be done on handicap ramps and when the permanent striping would be completed. Addleton said he did not know why the contractor had done the work on handicap ramps that was done or if any additional work was called for, but he said he would seek additional information. The city manager also said the contractor is scheduled to return to complete the permanent striping. Councilman Douglas said additional work for the traffic signal sensors needed to be tweaked and indicated some were not working properly. Addleton said he would check on all of the council’s concerns.

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