Birmingham Water Works may be looking to automate meter readings after a year of chaos in the utility due to meter reading issues, which the utility attributed in part to labor shortages.

According to FOX6’s Jonathan Hardison, the Water Works may release a request for proposal (RFP) in March. This will allow Water Works officials to hire a consultant to help look at installing Automated Meter Infrastructure (AMI). AMI would allow the Water Works to measure water usage with “smart” meters instead of using human readers.

Hardison said the Water Works could hire the consultant by late June, and they would determine the cost and timeline for implementing AMI at that time.

The utility’s consideration of AMI follows several meter-related issues in 2022 that left some customers with suspiciously hefty water bills.

Thousands of customers reportedly didn't receive bills for months at a time. Later, they received much larger or multiple bills all at once.

The bills were not based on accurate meter readings but were estimations using previous months' usage. Birmingham Water Works blamed the issues on insufficient meter readers and inadequate staffing.

According to Water Works public relations manager Rick Jackson, the utility's estimation of water bills was a temporary measure taken due to staffing shortages in the meter reading and billing departments. 

Nevertheless, a former employee accused the Water Works of lacking checks and balances and communication last year. She claimed to be one of three billing department employees fired on December 1, 2021, and said that the utility accused her of falsifying documents, which she denies.

Instead, she said she was intentionally given unclear instructions from the managers whose orders she was following.

The former billing department employee said this went on for over two years, and she was not surprised when billing issues ensued earlier in 2022.

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