The City of Highland Park, Michigan (the City) was facing challenges in managing the operations and maintenance of its water and wastewater system (the System). Tasked with a growing slate of federal and state environmental safety regulations, installing and repairing critical infrastructure assets, responding to issues raised by residents and businesses, and running an outmoded and inefficient customer billing and customer service infrastructure, the System was in need of a comprehensive revitalization.
Faegre Baker Daniels Consulting principal consultant Skip Stitt helped lead the City’s efforts to develop a public private partnership that would save money and improve utility-related services. On July 1, 2015, after a competitive solicitation process, the City entered a contract with Wade Trim Operations Services, Inc. to manage the operations and maintenance of the System.
In concert with the City, Wade Trim identified several key areas to address in its new role, with specific action items for each.
Environmental Compliance and Safety
Environmental compliance and safety was the top priority for both Wade Trim and the City. The goal was simple: ensure that operations are in compliance with federal and state environmental standards at all times. Wade Trim put into place a compliance process that included regularly testing water from numerous sample sites.
Operations & Maintenance and Capital-Related Activities
Wade Trim implemented a daily operations regime to improve customer service, reduce costs and extend the life of the City’s infrastructure assets.
The strategy emphasized installing and repairing water meters; flushing, lubricating and pumping fire hydrants; recording and documenting the condition and operation of fire hydrants; inputting all maintenance and operations tasks and data into a computerized maintenance management system (CMMS); and responding to Miss Dig requests for locating and marking the underground utility assets.
Meter Replacement Program
In an effort to increase efficiency and more accurately and effectively collect revenue for the City, Wade Trim implemented a City-wide replacement program for the City’s 3,100 water meters.
Meter Reading, Customer Billing and Customer Service Modernization
Wade Trim modernized the infrastructure for the System’s water meter reading, customer billing and customer payment processes. Wade Trim installed two radio towers and deployed hand-held devices that enable the City to read water meters electronically. It also streamlined customer billing practices by implementing online and credit card payment options, and by opening a new Customer Service Center, where customers can raise concerns and service issues while also paying their bills in-person.
While much remains to be done, the first 18 months of Wade Trim’s contract operations have been a success. To date, Wade Trim has:
- Prepared and provided Highland Park residents and businesses with the Consumer Confidence Report for years 2015 and 2016.
- Consistently met the state and federally mandated environmental and safety standards.
- Completed the required operational and maintenance activities and logged them into the CMMS.
- Completed about 75 percent of the meter replacement program, which will continue as the company is able to obtain access to homes and businesses.
- Performed significantly under budget on maintenance allowances for water distribution and sewer collection, resulting in un-spent money being credited back to the City in monthly invoices.
- Deployed an electronic meter reading solution so that accurate bills are now sent to customers on a monthly basis.
- Billed and captured unpaid accounts receivable dating back to 2013, and billed an average of $500,000 per month since implementing new payment infrastructure, generating average revenue of $292,000 per month.
- Generated total annual billings in FY 2016 of about $6.5M in contrast with the sporadic billing and collection activity that preceded contract operations.
Wade Trim’s two biggest System challenges going forward will be further reducing lost water—which is water that has been treated and delivered to the City, but is lost before reaching a home or business, often due to malfunctioning pipes—and managing water pressure issues. Wade Trim will take several steps in 2017 to address water pressure issues. Initially, Wade Trim will be going into the field and exercising gate valves to determine which ones are off/on and/or broken. Gathering this operational information will help it determine where it can increase flow to improve the overall performance of Highland Park’s water distribution system. With respect to lost water, Wade Trim will continue its efforts to identify and repair underground leaks.