Councilor resigns during water debate

Doswell "Tex" Pierce resigned from the Mineral Town Council Monday night as the council considers steps to improve the town water system.

Doswell “Tex” Pierce resigned from the Mineral Town Council Monday night, prior to a meeting to discuss how to improve the town’s water system.

In the letter of resignation he presented to the council, Pierce, who was first elected to council in 2014 and reelected in 2018, cited personal reasons that he did not wish to disclose.

Pierce had recently proposed that the town purchase wireless water meters to replace the 341 existing meters that measure residents’ water use. This system is the best way to separate how much water residents are actually using, he said, as opposed to water that is leaking from the town’s aging pipes.

It would cost $354,735 to buy and install the meters, or $1,040 each, plus a $2,500 per month fee over the next 15 years to keep the software for the meters up to date and to train staff to read the meters. These meters could be read from the town office and would be updated hourly, helping to accurately bill residents.

Mayor Pam Harlowe expressed concern over the $2,500 monthly fee, which would total $450,000 over the 15-year period. She asked if it would be worth buying radio-read meters like those used by the Town of Louisa and the Louisa County Water Authority. To read these meters, town staff have to drive by each house.

Harlowe estimated that these meters cost about $500 each. The total to replace all of the water meters in town would be $170,500. The software to operate the system would cost $1,800, along with the cost of a laptop computer or iPad to read the meters from. There would also be a maintenance fee for the system of $720 per year.

Pierce said the town could pay for wireless meters with town funds and the remaining $75,000 the town received from the federal CARES Act, or enter into a five-year payment plan for roughly $4,500 per month.  

The $2,500 monthly fee would be covered by increased revenue from accurately billing meters and via a $4 monthly administrative fee, Pierce said.

“This is the first step to fix the system,” he said. “There’s no use in redoing the pipes if you haven’t fixed the meters.”

Being able to read these meters from the office would lead to more consistent and accurate billing, as the meters could be read even on days with bad weather, such as rain or snow. The wireless meters can be read even under a foot of snow, Pierce said. While the meters would cost more, the fact that they’re higher-quality was the biggest factor for him.

“If you put in the top-of-the-line meters, you don’t have to worry about [replacing] the meters for 20 years or more,” he said.

 It’s unclear if the town could be reimbursed for the cost of either system under the CARES Act. That funding must be used by Dec. 31. Installing the wireless meters would not occur for at least six months, while some of the radio-read meters could be installed in half that time.

Council was unable to reach a decision on how many meters to buy, or even if replacing them should take priority over replacing pipes in areas of town that are more prone to leaks. Discussion will continue at the council’s regular business meeting on Oct. 13.

Pierce’s resignation went into effect at midnight on Monday after council had adjourned.

“I regret that I wasn’t able to get more done with getting the water system updated,” he said.

 “His resignation was certainly a surprise in the middle of our discussion,” Harlowe said. “Mr. Pierce has a lot of experience with the water system. Hopefully, we can find an appropriate replacement who is equally knowledgeable.”

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