PILOT MOUNTAIN — In preparation for the upcoming budget season, town commissioners held a retreat to hear about the community’s needs and begin setting priorities. Department heads were invited to share their accomplishments and any specific requests.
Ronald Niland, of All American Associates, and Michael Boaz, Interim Town Manager, served as facilitators. “What we hope to accomplish today is to give the board an overview of where things are and where we need to go,” said Niland.
Andy Honeycutt, from MeterSys, presented an assessment about how the town could convert the water meters to an automated reading system. “This solution should make sense operationally through efficiencies, support your financial goals, and serve the customer,” Honeycutt explained.
The 30 year old meters are due to be replaced. “Mechanical meters will slow down over time, which means you get a degradation of read quality, which means you’re under billing more than likely,” said Honeycutt.
With 1,100 meters, the town’s current system requires staff to spend 16 days each month driving to meters to read them. An automated system would reduce the monthly time investment to two days, according to Honeycutt.
Two main system types are available. Automated Meter Reading (AMR) allows for drive by readings on a monthly basis. Advanced Meter Infrastructure (ARI) is a network providing hourly updates throughout the system.
While AMI has more benefits such as system wide warnings for leak detection, it is more costly and requires more training for staff. Honeycutt recommended installing AMR with the option of a gradual conversion to AMI in the future.
An agreement from the county to fund up to one third of the cost of replacing the meter, or $82,000, is due to expire this summer. The town is hoping to extend the agreement one year, providing time to make the best decision.
Recognizing that the police department has the largest portion of the budget, Chief of Police, Darryl Bottoms, said, “my goal is not to spend the most money, our goal is to protect lives and property of the citizens of the town.” Actively fund raising, the department has received grants to provide needed equipment such as radios and in car computers.
The main requests from the police department are a new patrol car, salary increases, and adding an officer position. Noting that the department’s newest vehicle is five years old, Niland suggested implementing a fleet management program in which a new car is purchased each year to replace the oldest vehicle in service. Bottoms explained that with the current staffing officers often work alone.
Ronald Holt, Public Works Director, said, “we did replace a lot of equipment this past year and there’s still going to be more to be replaced.” The bush hog tractor, the pick-up truck, and pipe and leak detector equipment were mentioned as items that will need to be replaced in the near future.
Noting the many recent water line breaks and the fact that the treatment plants in Pilot Mountain do not run near to capacity, Niland mentioned the possibility of combining with other systems in the area to improve efficiency. “What you are seeing in some places is smaller systems combining together, and the state is actually going to have some money this year to study those kind of things,” Niland said.
Kent Scott, Waste Water Treatment Plant Operator, explained that the waste water facility can not handle any increase in volume. “Most of the equipment is just wore out, plain and simple,” said Scott.
The town has 20 lift stations which need to be checked daily. Upgrades are addressed in the town’s capital improvement plan. “I think in the CIP the estimate is $180,000,” said Boaz, “then they would only have to go once a week.”
Brandon Stahly, Water Treatment Plant Operator exlpained that the plant is in the process of moving from a single valve for the facility to one valve per pump, providing a back-up plan in the event one stops functioning.
“We’d like to get some type of aeration,” said Stahly, noting that an aeration system would prevent odor and taste issues that have been experienced in the past.
The search for a Town Manager will begin in March with posting the position and collecting applications. The goal is to have a new manager in place by November.
Other issues that will be considered during budgeting are sidewalk repairs, solid waste issues, cemetary maintenance, library repairs, the vacancy in the Pilot Center, and the grant project on Depot Street.
Diane Blakemore may be reached at 336-368-2222 or on twitter @PilotReporter.