Tahlequah Daily Press

October 18, 2013

HPWA sticking with Fireflies despite issues

Staff Writer

HULBERT — Despite some issues and vacated warranties, a trustee of the Hulbert Public Works Authority says the advantages of a recently installed automated reading system for gas and water meters is worth the trouble.

“The Firefly system allows our public works to better serve its customers,” said George Truitt. “The meters help us find leaks, or can help us alert a customer to a leak. They take readings every 15 minutes, so if a customer believes a bill is in error, we can point to the times of day when their use peaks. They can make adjustments to lower their usage and save money.”

Truitt added that water meter data is already helping the authority and customers, but a natural gas data baseline is still being compiled due to the seasonal nature of gas usage.

During their regular meeting Oct. 10, trustees voted unanimously to continue the authority’s annual maintenance contract with Datamatic Ltd., despite issues noted by trustees with the automated readings by the company’s Firefly meter interface units, and concern that the Firefly warranties were placed in bankruptcy.

Datamatic, based in Plano, Texas, and in business since 1977, filed a voluntary petition for Chapter 7 liquidation - the sale of non-exempt property and apportionment of proceeds to creditors - on Sept. 26 in U.S. Bankruptcy Court.

The bankruptcy does not force Datamatic to close immediately, but Chapter 7 can void some debts, such as warranties, as the company prepares to cease operations.

The HPWA will maintain its relationship with Datamatic for another year at a cost of $6,000, meaning the company will continue to gather data and send it to the authority for billing.

“We installed this system for about $300,000 at no extra cost to the customer,” Truitt said. “It was purchased by consolidating required security reserves we maintained on loans that were paid off.”

System operation cannot be assumed by the HPWA because proprietary software is used. Truitt said rights to the software will be purchased, and the purchasing company will take over operations.

During the trustees’ meeting, it was reported that as many as 100 meters required manual reads or restarts in a month. Truitt said the system passes information along lines, meter-to-meter, and data can accumulate.

“If we don’t hear from 100 meters, that doesn’t mean all 100 are down,” he said. “Due to the water or gas line configuration, readings from many meters may need to pass through a bottleneck of two or three. These seem to freeze or shut down the most often. We are trying to find out whether that is due to data overload or something else.”

Loss of the multi-year warranties caused the greatest concern among trustees and the authority. Truitt said the failure of some “Fireflies” is inevitable.

“We are disappointed that the Firefly warranties have been put into bankruptcy,” he said. “This can add to the cost of using the system because those warranties will not be honored. We anticipate an adjustment after we estimate the impact of the warranty bankruptcy on the public works budget.”