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Upgrades In Store For CharMeck Water Meter Reading

As Charlotte heads into the summer season when water usage is at a peak, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities Department is asking for permission to spend $6.2 million upgrading its meter equipment. The decision is on the city council's agenda tonight. The actual water meters aren't being replaced, just the electronic transmitters that sit on top of the meters and beam water usage information out by radio signal. The utilities department started installing its first transmitters about ten years ago to eliminate the need for a worker tramping around in the bushes next to your house to read the water meter. But about 3 percent of the time, those transmitters don't work for residential customers, says utilities spokeswoman Karen Whichard. "So when the meter reader is driving down the road in the van and collecting the radio signals that transmit the meter readings to a system that allows us to bill, sometimes those don't make it to the van, which means we have to go out and re-read," says Whichard. That happened more than 45,000 times in the last year, says Whichard. Tonight the utilities department is asking city council members for permission to spend about $6 million upgrading to newer, more reliable transmitters. About half of the money will pay a private company to handle the upgrades. The utilities department also plans to spend half a million dollars testing an even newer type of transmitter that will give customers an hour-by-hour account of their water usage. Those meters are being tested in four neighborhoods, including the Peninsula in Cornelius. That community experienced a spike in unusually high water bills during the summer of 2009, which ultimately led the utilities department to overhaul customer service procedures and speed up the replacement of aging water meter transmitters.