After 18 years working with the same water meter reader, officials heard this year there might be others interested in making an offer, and so the city issued a request for bids.

But at the end of the process, officials chose the same company the city has long contracted with: Metereaders LLC of Portland.

However, this time around brings a better deal, said Anthony Hooper, a city management analyst.

'It's slightly cheaper and we're getting more,' Hooper said. 'We're also holding them more accountable. … They've done a good job of this, and now they're doing a better job.'

The company used to earn 61 cents for every read of one of the city's roughly 12,500 residential commercial and industrial water meters, or $45,750 for 75,000 reads each year.

Now it will get just 56 cents per read, resulting in savings of about $3,750 with the total $42,000 new annual contract.

Also new with this contract is the addition of GPS tracking.

Metereaders has agreed to install GPS technology in its vehicles so officials can track their routes and activities, giving staff better information to use when responding to customer inquiries about readings.

'We believe they always do read the meters, but this is one way to confirm it without a shadow of a doubt,' Hooper said.

'We're also holding them to a more stringent mistake policy,' he said. 'Before, the policy didn't have a lot of teeth. They were basically allowed 20 mistakes per month. When you read more than 6,000, that's less than one percent.'

So, the city is now holding the company to five mistakes before charging penalties.

'Past that it's $30,' Hooper said, because that's how much it costs to send someone else out to verify a reading.

In addition, city staff will soon work with Metereaders to conduct an audit of the system, creating a log of homes and meter locations to ensure what's on the ground matches information in the city's database.

The new contract, which is renewable, took effect July 1.

Eventually, rather than following a bimonthly billing cycle, the city might switch to monthly billings, which would allow customers to catch errors in their charges or flag possible water leaks sooner. That would require renegotiating the contract with Metereaders, Hooper said.

Officials are also considering the possibility of newer technology and automatic meter readings 'because that really is where the future is,' Hooper said. 'You would be able to check your meter reads on a daily basis. In my opinion, it allows for a much-improved service.'

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