GARLAND — A comprehensive water meter replacement program expected to be the first such system overhaul in town in close to 60 years may be delayed due to a recent letter from the Local Government Commission.
Town clerk Jennifer Gray alluded to the letter, and the possible delay of the project, during a recent meeting of the Garland Board of Commissioners. The letter, dated May 1, raises concerns of untimely record-keeping and the issuance of a new credit card with a $500 limit.
“Your corrective action plan indicates that all books and records are being kept timely and up to date; however we are concerned to hear otherwise,” the letter from Sharon Edmundson, director of the Fiscal Management Section of the LGC, states. “We are disturbed to hear that as the town is just now legally settling the old infractions that the town is opening itself to more risk.”
She noted meetings that were not yet fully documented, as well as the issuance of the new credit card. Edmundson asked how the board planned to manage the credit card, “so that all purchases are for a public purpose, are properly authorized and do not create a control problem now or later?” She said the board needed to provide procedures for the card ensuring it will be properly controlled, and the board’s involvement in that process.
During a recent meeting, the Garland Board of Commissioners was already working to address the matter, voting to destroy the credit card and approving meeting minutes from January through March, including all regular meetings and a March special meeting.
The corrective action plan submitted by the town was part of a process ongoing with the state since the beginning of 2012.
A glowing missive was received by Garland officials from LGC earlier this year that praised the strides made by the town since early 2012, touting a complete turnaround from operation deficiencies and serious weaknesses to a positive fund balance, a self-supporting Water and Sewer system, corrected personnel problems and the receipt of a huge community development grant.
Gray said the LGC’s most recent letter is expected to be addressed further at a special meeting, which has been set for this Tuesday, May 28. The board must respond in writing within 30 days to each concern raised. LGC also requeted copies of the latest financial statements and the 2013-14 budget, in ordinance or draft form.
“Since you are planning to issue debt that requires the approval of the Local Government Commission, we must have a complete response to this letter on file prior to the commission’s consideration of your debt application,” Edmundson stated.
That debt service is in the form of a no-interest loan project to install a fixed-based automated meter reading network expected to bring more reliability and accuracy in accounting for the town’s well water — and significantly cut down the resources necessary for the entire process.
Leo Green Jr., engineer for Green Engineering PLLC in Wilson told commissioners in March that the $240,550 loan was ready to go upon approval by the town, and the Garland board subsequently signed and submitted a letter of intent to move forward.
The project would replace 365 residential water meters and three bulks meters to monitor the currently non-metered Sampson County connection, as well as replace meters on the wells. The $240,550 would be lent with zero percent interest and could be financed over 20 years.
“The system that is proposed is a radio-read system, where you will be able to sit here in town hall and read the majority of meters in town,” Green has said. “The range is about 4 or 5 miles, so that will pick up everything within your service area. There has been no systematic meter replacement in town since sometime in the 1950s when the system was put in here. That’s 50-plus years.”
Green said Garland’s revenues could be drastically improved by a meter replacement program, estimating about 15 percent revenue growth, around $40,000, once the town’s leaks are detected and loss is recovered.
Garland commissioners get regular complaints from residents about unexpectedly huge water bills that are believed to occur from water losses. Along with more accountability and reliability, the amount of resources utilized to do the meter-reading and billing will be decreased immensely. Green said the equipment’s mapping software will indicate which meters have been read and which have not, and include a plethora of up-to-the-minute data.
With the vehicle radio-read unit, that time is cut down astronomically, down to a matter of seconds.
Garland town board members have touted the positive effects the project would have on the town. And while Edmundson called into question some recent practices, she said she was confident the town knew the direction it needed to be going.
“We are pleased to see that the board has taken the findings from the previous audit seriously and is treating internal control as a serious matter,” she stated. “Considering the town’s recent history of weak internal control and too much authority vested in one individual, we are sure that the board appreciates how proper controls with the board’s involvement can safeguard the town’s assets and preserve your fund balance.”
Chris Berendt can be reached at 910-592-8137 ext. 121 or via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.