FAQ: Citywide Water Meter Replacement and Water Bills

August 10, 2020

As the City of Ferndale moves through its community-wide water meter and radio replacement program, we have received a number of questions regarding water bills—namely from property owners receiving higher or lower (in some cases, significantly) bills than in previous months.

Please see the frequently asked questions and answers below for information about your meter reading and water billing. If you'd like to discuss your account personally, or have additional questions, the City's Finance Department and Water Billing staff are happy to assist; contact us at 248-546-2374 or by email at waterbilling@ferndalemi.gov.

WHY ARE YOU REPLACING WATER METERS?

On Sept. 9, 2019, Ferndale City Council unanimously approved a plan to replace water meters and radio transmitters throughout the city. This was a move to replacing the city’s aging units, which had begun failing at increasing rates and producing unpredictable extreme water bills for some residents. The City partnered with Utility Metering Solutions (UMS) to replace meters for all residential and business properties with new Neptune water-smart system meters, provided by Ferguson Waterworks. Ferguson, one of the nation’s largest waterworks companies, offers a secure, cloud-based smart-water system accessible on mobile devices, allowing customers to see their water usage in real-time, set notifications to alert them when their water use is higher than normal, and send alerts to utility staff, increasing transparency for both residents and Water Department staff.

WHERE ARE YOU IN THE REPLACEMENT PROCESS?

The City's water meter replacement process is approximately 70% complete. We began meter and radio replacements in November 2019, with an anticipated completion date of mid summer 2020. The program was delayed by about three months because of the COVID-19 pandemic and a work stoppage by our contractor, UMS.

I RECEIVED MY WATER BILL AND IT'S HIGHER (OR LOWER) THAN USUAL... WHAT'S GOING ON?

The likely culprit: you have received an actual water meter reading after an estimated, or several estimated bills. As the City's older water meters and their radios began failing at increasing rates, it became impossible for staff to keep up with repairs and individual in-person readings. For those with failing meter radios, the Finance Department began estimating bills (estimate of the previous three billing cycles). For some properties, these estimates may have been higher or lower (significantly so, in some cases) than normal usages. The result: several months of bills—up to a year and a half—that weren't reflective of a property's true water usage. The first actual read with the new meter is "catching up," creating a higher or lower bill.

IS THAT THE ONLY REASON A BILL MAY BE HIGHER?

It's the most likely reason, but not the only possibility. The water meter replacement contractor work-stoppage due to COVID caused a data delay that may have prompted a small number of residents to have received a bill for longer than the typical three-month billing cycle—up to five months worth. There is also the chance that a property is experiencing an individual issue, such as a leak, extra usage because of summer activities (pools, garden and lawn watering, etc.), or something similar. If you have questions about this kind of scenario, please contact the Water Billing staff.

MY BILL IS HIGHER THAN USUAL AND I'M HAVING TROUBLE PAYING IT... WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS?

At the start of the pandemic, the Finance Department began offering assistance benefits, including adding NO credit card or late fees for any customers. This will continue going forward until otherwise communicated. Additionally, the City offers an easy billing payment plan, available to anyone for any reason; to apply, simply complete and submit the online form.

I TRIED CONTACTING THE WATER BILLING DEPARTMENT BUT I DIDN'T RECEIVE A RESPONSE

We apologize for this, and we have taken steps to ensure prompt customer service. Two staff vacancies in the department plus a much-larger-than-average call and email volume led to some difficulty with our response times. The Finance Department has devoted a staff member exclusively to water billing and meter replacement questions and concerns, and all calls and emails will be prioritized for response. Contact us at 248-546-2374 or by email at waterbilling@ferndalemi.gov and we'll be happy to assist you.

WHAT'S NEXT?

As the City nears completion of the water meter and radio replacement program, we are excited to announce that we will soon be launching the new Ferguson water-smart software system, which will alleviate most of these challenges. Property owners will soon be able to see water usage in real time, set notifications to alert you when your water use is higher than normal, and send alerts to utility staff, increasing visibility for both residents and Water Department staff. Look for the rollout of the new software this fall.

POST WRITTEN BY

Kara Sokol

Communications Director