Proposed consolidation of meter reading stirs controversy

REED CITY — Opinions are clashing in Reed City between residents and city officials concerning the city council’s decision to allow a trial period for consolidated meter reading, which changes the workload for one city employee.

Reed City Manager Ron Howell said the idea behind the trial period is to see how much money the city can save and how much time will go back into the public works department. Three meters, including gas, water and electric, are read on homes each month by three separate people. Reed City worker Dave Belden reads water meters.

“The proposal was on the basis of if we can free up one week of work and get one week back into public works, then we’ve gained a week,” Howell said.

Belden is a full-time employee with benefits and rates of pay for an equipment operator according to the Teamsters contract and his temporary appointment to Water System Operator in Charge — including a wage increase of $2.97 per hour — expired on June 30 and has not been renewed.

Belden holds a D3 license, which is a must for an individual who oversees a water system, but is not required for meter reading. About 900 water meters in Reed City must be read each month. For reading the meters, Belden receives a wage of $21 per hour.

Prior to Belden, the now-retired employee in the same position manually recorded meter readings, which took about four days, Howell said. Using an electronic reader, it takes about one week for Belden to complete the 900 readings and he makes $840 during that one-week period. In one year, that equals about $10,000 for meter reading alone.

Many citizens stood up during the public comment portion of the July 15 meeting in response to the topic and expressed their disapproval with the thought of what they called outsourcing. They defended Dave Belden and his position, adding he is a fine employee and highly regarded by city residents. Citizens said they believe the job should be saved, for he lives in Reed City, spends money in the city and is a tax payer.

Though consolidation has been approved for the time being, nothing could come from it until later down the road.

“Mr. Belden may very well read meters next month,” Howell said. “We have to see what our work load is for DPW.”

Multiple attempts to reach Belden were unsuccessful.

The next Reed City Council meeting will take place at 7 p.m. on Aug. 5 at the Reed City Offices, located at 227 E. Lincoln Ave.