A new water billing system could soon be on tap for the city of Jackson, now that its lawsuit with Siemens has been settled.
Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba recently announced that it had settled its suit with Siemens for approximately $90 million.
After attorneys’ fees are paid, and after it repays a $7 million emergency water loan, Jackson will be left with just under $53 million.
Among options, Lumumba said the city is considering investing in a new billing system, one to replace the failed system put in place by Siemens or finding a way to correct problems with the current system.
He said the administration will host several community meetings to discuss plans and receive residents’ input.
“We know that we need to fix the system,” he said. “We are evaluating what options are available to do that in the most effective and cost-efficient way.”
Lumumba points to the fact that the city is still experiencing numerous complications related to the Siemens work.
Because of those complications, Jackson is losing around $20 million annually – funds that should be going to maintain its water and sewer infrastructure.
Siemens was brought on in 2012 to completely overhaul the billing system. The firm replaced more than 50,000 analog water meters with automated ones, and a new network communications system that would transmit meter data to the water billing office.
The network included collectors and repeaters that were supposed to collect measurements from the meters and submit it to billing.
Meanwhile, new billing software was installed in the billing office.
Numerous problems have ensued. In some cases, repeaters and collectors have been taken out by lightning. When meters are unable to communicate with the system, the billing system sends out “estimated bills,” based on previous months’ usage.
After three of those bills, the system quits sending out statements to those customers altogether, causing accounts to get stranded.
When meters are unable to communicate, they will attempt to send the message again and again, causing their batteries to run down, Lumumba said.
Jackson has spent millions to shore up the system, including taking out $7 million in emergency water loans late last year.
Lumumba believes $50 million could be enough to purchase a new system, restating the city’s claims that the Siemens contract costs were inflated.
However, he said before entering into any new contract, he said the city will do its due diligence. “We’re going to do what they didn’t do last time – measure twice and cut once.”