City officials say progress has been made on the project to automate both water and electric meter reading for Laurinburg.
The project has been hampered by problems with both hardware and software, but according to city project manager Harry Gale, both problems have been or are much closer to being solved.
“We finally got our software done last Monday,” Gale said. The “mosaic” wireless system, which relies on antenna relays called “Fireflies” to relay data from meters had previously been unable to communicate that data to the city’s billing program.
“The filter has been built (to solve that problem) and is now working,” said City Manager Ed Burchins at Tuesday’s council workshop. Burchins resigned from his position citing personal reasons later in the workshop session.
Replacements for the “gateway” hardware components that had not been working are being sent to the city by Datamatic (the company responsible for the project), as well.
Of concern to city council is the state of Datamatic as a company.
Gale reported that after recent changes there is now only one member of Datamatic’s staff assigned to the Laurinburg metering project.
“They downgraded and now it’s only him.”
Because of the lack of boots on the ground by Datamatic, Gale said that it seems unlikely that a portion of the wireless system reading meters in the county near Gibson will ever come online. Meters in that area will likely have to be read manually.
Asked by Councilman JD Willis if that would constitute a breach of contract and permit the city to withhold the more than $200,000 it has retained until completion, Assistant City Attorney William Floyd said that he “would not pay them anything.”
“That would be ‘installation is not complete,’” said Finance Director Cindy Carpenter.
Choosing to focus on the positive aspects of the project was Councilman Kenton Spencer.
While saying that Datamatic is “in a state of flux” as a company, Spencer is optimistic about the future of Laurinburg’s automated meter reading project – whether that future is with or without Datamatic.
“The program is going forward and it has improved and now we have to take the long term approach, because the concept is sound.”
Spencer said that once completed the project will put Laurinburg “ahead of other cities as well as the Duke and Progress Energy companies.”
“We also have a million dollars in water meters which we absolutely would need with or without this project,” Spencer said.
The handling of the Datamatic project has highlighted what Spencer believes is a philosophical divide on the council and in the city’s government.
“Laurinburg has to look at itself and decide to compete not just with neighboring municipalities but with China and Brazil. We have to make ourselves aggressive, efficient and competitive by being positive and progressive.
“Or we can be a bunch of cave-dwelling flat Earthers.”