City officials remain optimistic that Laurinburg’s new electric and water metering system will be operational soon, but are exploring other contingencies in case it is not.
The $2.4 million project was supposed be live and online in December.
According to Councilman Kenton Spencer, it seems unlikely that the system will be operating as intended before spring of 2013. The new system would allow for wireless reading of meters.
“I am optimistic about the project, but it is not a blind optimism,” Spencer said. “There have been and will be challenges … (and) we are just developing a ‘plan b’ if, for whatever reason, (Datamatic) fails to meet their requirements then we migrate to another company that can pick up the project.
“And there are other companies that can do it.”
A recent test run showed that the system was 92 percent operational.
Spencer emphasized that, even in what he called a worst-case scenario where Datamatic fails as a company and is unable to complete the project, the city would not have wasted its investment.
“Over a million was spent replacing water meters and a crumbling infrastructure that had to be turned over anyway,” Spencer said.
The other mitigating factor is that Datamatic agreed to take on nearly approximately $500,000 in faulty “FIREFLY” meter relays that the city was stuck with when an earlier wireless metering project with Datamatic was scuttled.
“There were two key pieces in the bidding process. One was that they had to take back the bad equipment and give us credit for the new equipment and then they had to guarantee our investment over a five year period and guarantee the software,” Spencer said.
The current system was designed so that it could be operated by another firm were Datamatic to fail to meet its obligations or if it were to fail as a business.
“That’s where we are at right now, trying to work out kinks in the software,” Spencer said.
“We have got to continue to think big picture, because there are always going to be small glitches when you are moving forward … but as long as you have anticipated difficulties — and we have — then you will have a high probability of success.”
Councilman Drew Williamson said the city is in a holding pattern as it waits for Datamatic to resolve the kinks.
“I’m hopeful but I guess we are at this point where we’re still waiting for more information,” Williamson said. “The reports we have received indicate that the project has shown a lot of promise, but it’s obviously not completed, which is a concern.”
Williamson said that the council is pleased with what appears to be “genuine effort” on the part of Datamatic to resolve the present difficulties.
At earlier meetings, Councilman Curtis Leak expressed discontent with the lack of a Datamatic technical staff person on the ground in Laurinburg.
While City Manager Ed Burchins said that a technical representative from Datamatic can work just as effectively remotely, Spencer said that having a “Datamatic liaison in on the project would help build trust.”
Burchins and Williamson are in agreement that the city’s legal position and its contract with Datamatic is sturdy, with Burchins saying that the contract has been carefully examined a number of times by the city’s legal staff.
The contract makes guarantees about the proper functioning of the software as well as about the savings that it will provide to the city over the course of five years.
“And we are in a good legal position,” Williamson said. “The question is will they be able to comply.”