HOWARD — The documents won’t be signed for a few weeks. But Knox County commissioners took a major step forward Tuesday toward financing a $1.083 million water meter system, installation included, which will provide new, more efficient water meters for 2,900 county water customers in Apple Valley and Howard.

County Administrator Jason Booth said the county will soon decide on a lease-purchase agreement with either a five-year or 10-year term from Sterling National Bank of Columbus. Jeff Pickerel, director of the county’s water-wastewater department, is prepared for his department to cover half of the cost, while financing the other half through Sterling Bank — $541,000. The county has been approved to finance up to $600,000 if necessary.

The county’s half of the water meter system price is expected to be paid back through a smarter, more efficient, computerized water system that Pickrell and Booth said detects leaks and other “unaccounted” for water almost instantly. Because of leaks, drips, faulty water meters and other causes, the amount of water “lost” in the Apple Valley/Howard area — where five wells provide water to customers from an underground aquifer — is nearly 60 percent. Many of the existing meters are nearly 30 years old.

The new water meters should be installed by around April of next year, Pickrell said. The 2,900 iPERL water meters will mainly be in a three-quarter inch size for line connection with some at 1 inch. A cost per unit was not available as of press time, but Pickrell said Johnson Controls — the county’s water meter consultant — has negotiated the cost and so he expects the per-unit price to be less than the $95 per unit he initially projected. Apple Valley/Howard customers, however, will not have their water rates increase, although they could potentially see their water bills rise as “unaccounted for water” becomes accounted for.

Pickrell said new water meters were sent away for testing in a lab for comparison to the old meters — 40 meters in total, which are the first 40 to be replaced out of 2,900. The case study revealed the new meters to be nearly 100 percent accurate. And they are guaranteed to stay that accurate for the long-term.

“Ten years from now they will still be reading with the same accuracy,” he offered.

Booth said a “ping” can be sent through the new system on a daily basis, a way of determining where there may be leaks and drips. A “ping” reading of continuous water usage in a unit (home) means that a toilet could be leaking, or a faucet left on. This will be advantageous in Apple Valley, where part-time homeowners have been known to have problems during which thousands of gallons of water burst from a line when they weren’t home. The water damage has been significant in some cases, and the water bills exceedingly high from the resulting leak.

“Last year we had a pretty significant water break out there and there was no way for us to notify the homeowner right away or for us to even know about it,” Booth said. “These new meters would detect such a leak. There would be notifictation.”

The entire water meter system, including installation, does not require competitive bidding because it involves a cooperative purchase agreement, in which Johnson Controls negotiated the best project possible with suppliers, Booth said.

In other action, Knox County commissioners approved a Community Development Block Grant Participation with the Village of Martinsburg involving a project to repair the village water system. The agreement authorizes the county to make payments of up to $312,500 toward the cost of such improvements, which must be completed by Aug. 31, 2021.

The project involves drilling and installation of a new well; repainting the interior and exterior of the existing 75,000 gallon water tower and miscellaneous repairs to the tower; a new tank mixing system and cathodic protection; installation of meter vaults on the wells; construction of a new well house and well controls; and replacement of 111 water meters in tandem with purchase of new water meter reading software. CDBG funds are directed through the Ohio Development Services Agency.

The Village of Martinsburg has committed $392,500 toward the project through an Ohio Public Works Grant. That grant was based on a total estimated project cost of $705,000. If the project exceeds that amount, the village is responsible for obtaining additional financing to cover the overage. The village is funding 56 percent of the project, including the OPWC grant, and the county 44 percent.

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Larry Di Giovanni: 740-397-5333 or and on Twitter, @mountvernonnews