During the public hearing on Idyllwild Water District’s proposal to reduce the volume of water included in its base rate, three customers spoke out.

Steve Holldber, the owner of Idyllwild Heating, told the board he was attending his first meeting, even though he has been a customer since 1976.

“I’m opposed to the water increase, not the sewer, based on what happened to me at my office,” he said.

His water bill this spring peaked at about 800 gallons daily. After several calls and requests for help, both his water meter and sensor, the electronic scanning device used to read the meters without having to get out of a vehicle, were replaced. Since that change, his usage has dropped to 62 gallons daily, the normal levels for the previous several years, he said.

During his research about the problem, Holldber learned that Sensus, the scanner manufacturer, has had problems in many communities through the country.

“Most of these favor the customer and not the district,” he stated. “[The sensors] read the meter too slowly. Phoenix was losing millions of dollars each year until they changed equipment.”

Based on his situation and apparently a similar one at Idyllwild Community Church, he recommended that IWD check its meters and scanners to verify they are accurate before implementing the new changes.

“I didn’t use the water and nobody stole the water,” he said. “As soon as the meter and sensor changed, the usage changed. No way I was using 800 gallons per day.”

Other communities that have had meter-reading problems with Sensor equipment include Muskogee, Oklahoma, Saranac Lake, New York, Honolulu, Hawaii, Katy, Texas, and recently Faribault, Minnesota.

IWD staff said they checked Holldber’s meter and General Manager Tom Lynch said it was tested and reported 99.7-percent accuracy. But Holldber responded that Sensor has said the meter and sensor cannot be tested separately.

“We do not know what was wrong. No answer yet,” commented Board President Jim Billman.

Steve Moulton, Bubba Books proprietor, spoke next. He pointed out that the district also receives revenues from property taxes and asked if water revenue in July had been sufficient.

“Yes, it was a good month for us. July is usually the highest month of the year,” responded Chief Financial Officer Hosny Shouman. The water revenue in July was slightly more than $110,000 and resulted in a net surplus of $37,100 after expenses were deducted, according to Shouman.

Shane Stewart, local businessman, attended and asked what the district had done to reduce its costs before seeking more revenue.

In response, Shouman explained that the changes in employee benefit packages had produced $145,000 in savings. The employees were now making a greater personal contribution to retirement plans and some plans had been changed.

IWD also has finished making its payments on long-term bonds, resulting in a $125,000 annual savings, added Lynch. This year, IWD will test recommendations Southern California Edison has provided to reduce pumping costs. (See accompanying story.)