City water department: Bills being sent late due to COVID-19 setbacks

By JASMINE STEVERSON JSTEVERSON@DDTONLINE.COM,

A great number of municipalities are reeling from the impact of COVID-19 in some way or another, and the city’s water department is no exception.

The City of Greenville’s water department is currently dealing with the impact coronavirus has had on it as utility bills have to go out later than originally scheduled.

“Here in the water department, we’ve been impacted by COVID-19 just like everybody else in regards to getting the bills out later than normal,” Jessie Whitley, director for the City of Greenville Water and Utility Department, said. “We’re running about two weeks behind on the bills being sent to our customers, because of COVID-19.“

Whitley explained that normally, the department bills on a 28-day cycle.

However, because the department is running about two weeks later than usual, some customers will experience a higher bill, Whitley said.

“You’re looking at a 40 to 45 day cycle on that bill because we’re behind in getting the bills out,” he said. “We do ask that our customers bear with us during this time. We have no control over COVID-19 but we’re doing what we can and we do know that safety is key.”

Whitley said in the midst of COVID-19 emerging, the department was integrating a new SmartPhone Meter Reading System, launched by a company called Datamatic.

“We were training on what we call smart phone systems,” Whitley said. “Being that COVID-19 came about, we had to kind of put a halt on the training on smart phone, but we are back up and running.”

Whitley said the halt in training is another reason the department had been lagging behind in getting the bills out to customers.

He explained with the new smart phone meter reading system, the department’s meter readers will go out with a smart phone and rather than manually read the meters with their visual eye, the phone will enable them to just take a picture of the meter or hit a button, and the readings come in. 

“So, that’s going to ensure accuracy, better customer service and with the convenience of photo taking, when customers want to get a visual of their readings, we can actually email or give them in person a photocopy of their reading,” Whitley said.

In addition, the new system is equipped with GPS capability and provides coordinates, which will send readers to the location of the house.

“That’s very good accuracy for us,” Whitley said. “If on a certain street, it’s going to tell us, ‘This house is this number,’ so, that’s great for us.”

Whitley stressed how useful the capability of capturing photos is because many times, customers want to have their meters reread.

“That’s where it comes in handy,” he said. “A copy can be emailed or picked up by the customer and it shows your reading, your meter and meter number.”

The contract with Datamatic’s Smart Phone Meter Reading system was signed Nov. 11, 2019, and the city began implementing the software around the first of the year, according to Whitley.

“This new system we’re implementing is going to be a whole lot better for us as well as our customers,” he said.