The City of Minden is in the process of upgrading approximately 5,600 electric meters, which will reduce human error and provide more accurate readings for the city’s residents.
But some residents are being asked to fund the upgrade not just as taxpayers, but out of their own pockets as well.
City services responsibilities end at the meter on the electric pole, located on individual properties. While meters may be city-owned, everything else supplying electricity from the pole is the property owner’s responsibility – including the meter housing or box.
Mayor Tommy Davis says meter installation is just about 50 percent, and so far, City of Minden Building Official Brent Cooley says they’ve sent out about 100 letters to residents whose electrical services are incompatible with the new meter.
Cooley says meter incompatibility has been a concern with some of the older homes in town.
“Every meter socket is being tested, and all those that are either old or obsolete that could potentially be dangerous, if we can install the meters we go ahead, and if we cannot, then we leave the old meter in and send them a notice that it needs to be upgraded,” he said.
If a property owner, whether it’s a home or business, has an issue, then they must contact a licensed electrician, he said, adding that at some point they must upgrade.
“They don’t have a choice,” Cooley said. “They have to upgrade it. If they do not upgrade it, and we can’t get an automatic reader in there, then we will have to manually read that meter on a monthly basis, and there will be a service fee for that.”
Davis clarified the $25 fee is an annual inspection fee, because if the meter is deemed unsafe, then an inspection will have to be conducted. This is not a fee to read the meter, he says, but to inspect meters they have discovered that could potentially be hazardous or do not meet code.
“That is to encourage them to upgrade their equipment so they don’t have to have the inspection,” he said. “We furnish the meter boxes, and we’re going to try to help them, and if it’s not too expensive, then we might be able help them, and then add it back into their electric bill over a period of time.”
It will be handled on a case by case basis, he added.
Davis says city ordinances and building codes dictate the city cannot do any work on private property.
Depending on what needs to be done, Dane Waxley, owner of McNeer Electric in Bossier City, says repairs could cost between $700 and $2,000.
“Just to replace the meter base itself is about $700,” he said. “If the home is old, and they are going to that expense, the chances are their panel needs to be replaced along with some other things, and that could get up to $2,000. It’s not something they would have to do, but it’s something we could recommend.”
The mayor says life and safety is the number one concern, and they will not be able to put some meters back in.
Some residents either have or will receive one of two letters, depending on their situation. One letter is what to do if the inspection reveals a “faulty or noncompliant electric service on the building,” and the other is for “electric meters that could not be installed…because of a faulty, damaged or noncompliant electric service on the building.”
They’ve been getting several phone calls in regards to the meter installations, Cooley said, and it can be confusing.
One of the issues they’ve run into is the meter may not fit into the base, the box that contains the meter itself. It may be too small or may not fit properly. The city will provide a base, but only if a licensed electrician asks for the permit from the city, he said.
Davis explained the benefit of the upgrade saying it provides accurate readings and the elimination of human error.
“Right now, we manually read those meters, and we manually write in the meter books the meter readings, and then we manually transfer those meter readings out of that book into the billing system,” he said. “That number gets handled several times, and there’s the good opportunity to get the meter readings wrong.”
The city’s meters have not been upgraded, in some cases, for more than 50 years. He also explained that many utility customers were not getting timely readings. For example, one billing cycle might be 28 days and another might be 35 days.
“This way, you’ll get a 30-day billing cycle every month,” he said. “They’ll be accurate, be read on a timely basis and read correctly.”