Thomson-McDuffie’s proposed project to change out all of the water meters could be financed by a $1.2 million loan from the Georgia Environmental Finance Authority. (GEFA)

The city’s current meters, numbering at least 3,000, are nearing the end of their useful life. The meters are sometimes giving inaccurate readings and resulting in unbilled water losses of nearly 131 million gallons a year.   Changing out the water meters would result in billing accuracy and efficient meter reading.

The Water-Sewer Commission recently agreed to the concept of obtaining a loan from GEFA, which offers financing for reservoir and water supply, water quality, stormwater, and solid waste infrastructure.  The commission submitted a pre-application for advanced metering infrastructure because GEFA requires such an application in order to competitively rank loans that may qualify for principal forgiveness and gauge the demand for this pot of money, said Thomson City Administrator and Water-Sewer Member Don Powers.

The McDuffie County-City of Thomson Water-Sewer Commission establishes policy and guides the continued development of a countywide, water-and-sewer system. The City of Thomson is responsible for the day-to-day operation of the system.

The submitted application allows the commission to begin the process of changing all water meters across Thomson-McDuffie to units that allow automatic monitoring of usage through wireless technology, over a multi year time frame, Powers said.

The pre-application led to GEFA awarding Thomson with a $1.2 million, 20-year loan from its Drinking Water State Revolving Fund on Jan. 28 to finance the water meter infrastructure improvement. Because it is a water conservation project, the Thomson-McDuffie Water-Sewer Commission, through the City, would qualify for an interest rate reduction on the loan.   

The advanced metering infrastructure project still has to be approved and recommended by the Water-Sewer Commission to the County Commission and the City Council, and then both bodies have to approve acceptance of the loan.  

If the three entities decide to accept the project, the city would pay 1.25 percent interest on the 20-year loan. The city would be eligible for a principle forgiveness grant of up to $238,800.

Powers called loans with 20 percent principal forgiveness along with the lower interest rate for 20 years attractive but further examination, including more funding sources, is needed by the Water-Sewer Commission.

“We have more work to do to determine how best to accomplish this and if we should use this GEFA loan to finance part of it,” he said. “The proposed project begins to modernize our metering and billing process, and now that we have qualified, we’ve got to decide whether to move forward and execute the loan or delay.”

During a recent joint city and county meeting to discuss possible water rate adjustments, the discussion covered all potential capital spending for the foreseeable future.  The advanced metering infrastructure was one of the topics discussed, along with the effect if this capital project were delayed for a while.  The group also acknowledged that loans with 20 percent principal forgiveness along with a lower interest rate for 20 years are attractive but also indicated that more examination of the water-sewer system is required.

When the governments elect to move forward with the meter project, all of the meters throughout Thomson-McDuffie will be eventually replaced, including the gas meters, which is not included in the loan.

The $1.2 million loan amount covers necessary AMI infrastructure for about one-half of the active water meters and the installation would be done by cover a multi-year period by City personnel,” Powers said.  “Well over one-half of our meters are old enough to consider replacing, even without this financing package,” Powers said.

He said automating the meter system would put Thomson-McDuffie in line with neighboring water-sewer systems. “Systems all around us are beginning to automate their metering process in some form or fashion, for accuracy, back office efficiency in bill production, and reduction of unbilled water losses.

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