Jackson considering contractors to help maintain water billing system

JACKSON, Miss. (WLBT) – Days after the city of Jackson brought on a firm to help it draw up plans for a new water billing system, Jackson is looking at bringing on two contractors to help maintain the existing one.

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The city council is considering two maintenance agreements, both of which members are expected to vote on at their October 13 meeting.

The first contract is with Mueller Systems, a $270,000, six-month deal to allow the firm to maintain the city’s “meter data management software.”

The other is with Keystone Utility Systems, to provide maintenance to meters and other billing system infrastructure in the field. That contract is for $146,000 and also will run for six months.

Both contracts also include the option to extend.

City officials likely will need to extend them, with public works officials saying it could take 12 to 18 months to put a new billing system in place.

The council’s Water and Sewer Infrastructure Ad-Hoc Committee discussed the proposals at its October 8 meeting.

Mueller was one of the subcontractors working on the Siemens contract. The city has claimed that the subcontractor knowingly installed faulty meters as part of the work.

Siemens was brought on in 2013 to completely overhaul the city’s water billing system. Work included replacing tens of thousands of water meters across Jackson, installing new software at the billing office and a new communications network to transmit meter data to the billing office.

Citing complications with the system, Jackson sued Siemens in 2019. Earlier this year, the city settled its suit with the firm for approximately $90 million.

Even with that suit was ongoing, the city continued to work with the Massachusetts-based Mueller to help address bugs with the system. Many of those bugs still persist, with thousands of water customers at any given time not receiving regular bills.

“I would expect there would be some consternation with continuing with this contract. But there is no way we can move forward with a new company without maintaining this agreement,” Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba said. “We’re not in a position to shut Mueller off.”

Public Works Deputy Director Carla Dazet said that without Mueller, meter data can’t be entered into the billing system, and bills can’t be sent out.

She said the contract needs to be approved at the next meeting, so Mueller can continue working.

Meanwhile, public works is proposing bringing on Keystone to maintain meters in the field, as well as the communications infrastructure that transmits data to the billing system.

The Siemens contract included the installation of around 65,000 residential and commercial meters, as well as a mesh network of transmitters and repeaters that carried meter data to the billing office.

Keystone will be responsible for replacing and maintaining equipment, so it can continue to function. A Keystone employee also will be working in the Water Sewer Business Administration (WSBA) office to provide employee training, Dazet said.

Both agreements would be paid for with proceeds from a $7 million loan issued by the city previously to help right the water system. A portion of those monies also were used to “lift and shift” the billing software to cloud-based servers.

In September, the city council approved bringing on the PREO Group LLC to draw up plans for a new billing system. The contract is for approximately $350,000 and 12 months.

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