The Houston Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted to declare the need to repair the city’s Washington Street well an emergency at its June 3 board meeting. This designation will allow them to bypass the traditional bid process and let engineers work out a price with the contractor.
The vote was one of three dealing with the city’s water infrastructure taken at last week’s meeting.
The city’s decision allows Calvert-Spradling Engineering to go to work immediately and negotiate with Parks & Parks Water Well Services on the cost to fix the well.
Engineer Stanley Spradling said the pump at the well is the problem and it has already been pulled by Parks & Parks. He added the well needed to be cleaned and the pump reinstalled.
“The work will still be monitored by the Board of Health and all the water sampling and testing will be done,” said Spradling. “If Houston should lose another well, there would be a problem. We need to get this pump back in the hole.”
Mayor Stacey Parker said providing clean, fresh water is a key role of city government and he has repeatedly worked to improve the city’s infrastructure. Parker said the city has been approved for a loan to help fund the well repair and the installation of new electronic water meters.
The motion to declare the well repair an emergency was made by Alderman at Large Barry Springer, with Ward 3 Alderman Frank Thomas offering the second. Ward 1 Alderman Tony Uhiren and Ward 4 Alderman Willie Mae McKinney voted for the declaration. Ward 2 Alderman Shenia Jones voted against it.
“I’m not saying we don’t need to do the well pump,” said Jones. “I just don’t know what direction this is going.”
Jones has said in past meeting she is not sure she wants to support the purchase of electronic water meters, well repairs and other water system repairs until it can be determined how the changes will affect water rates and bills to homes on fixed income.
The board voted to hire bond attorney’s required to monitor the purchase of bonds that would be used to finance city improvements to the water system. Costs have been estimated at $396,000 and the city approved a loan resolution through the U.S. Department of Agriculture last month for $448,000 to improve or expand its water system.
The letter of condition presented to the city indicates the bond attorney would receive a fee of $7,400. State and federal law requires certified bond attorney’s be hired for their expertise in these legal matters.
“I want to point out we have already voted to move forward on the grant application and now this move is to employ a bond attorney,” said Springer. “What we have voted on is to do the application and we haven’t voted to pay anything. All we are doing tonight is vote to move a little further down the road.”
Springer made the motion to hire (Boudoir???) and it was seconded by Thomas, with Uhiren and McKinney supporting it. Jones voted no.
The board also voted to advertise for bids for the electronic water meter project that has been discussed for more than a year. The motion to advertise was made by Thomas and seconded by Springer with Uhiren and McKinney in support. Jones voted against it.
“I know we need the water well and I also know when Barry says we are not spending money, we haven’t,” said Jones, “but we just voted to hire a bond council and now this.”
Aldermen have studied replacing the city’s 1,800 aging meters with new auto-read meters for some time and even got quotes from Empire Pipe last fall.
The city has been told the new meters will allow one person to drive a computer equipped truck down city streets and read all meters in one day. Vendors have touted the devices as accurate down to a quart of water. Vendors have also warned the city that customers will probably see water bills go up with the more accurate reading.
Aldermen are looking for more accurate readings and lower personnel costs.
It normally takes 10 to 15 days for a meter-reader to manually read the city’s meter. That data then must be entered on city computers by four workers at City Hall to calculate water usage and a bill.
New electronic meters would allow a city employee to drive a truck equipped with a reader down city streets to gather usage data.
The quickness and ease of reading water meters can help the city determine peak water usage times and what parts of the community have special water usage needs. The instant reading can also help pinpoint leaks on both streets and private property.
Aldermen were approached last year by a vendor who said the new meters have a 20-year-warranty and he quoted an initial cost of approximately $360,000 for installation, materials, hardware and software. They stated the cost could be amortized and installation would take about three months.
Verona, Hamilton, West Point, Greenwood, Gulfport and Winona have all gone to electronic water meters.
The city has embarked on a number of water and sewer upgrades over the past three years including a complete mapping and survey of water mains and sewer lines, renovating the city water tower, installing new valves and pipe downtown and installing new sewer lines in north Houston last year.
Having customers approach the board with water bill concerns is a regular agenda item for the city and the board has a policy of not changing water bills. The city does send someone out to double check a reading and will change a meter if the customer feels it is not reading correctly.
State law does not allow a city employee to change a water bill or alderman or the mayor to vote to change a water bill.