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Petersburg tries new method to get accurate water bills

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PETERSBURG, Va. -- CBS 6 senior reporter Wayne Covil went out with crews to read the water meters today in Petersburg,  after new meters were installed last year – the process plagued by several mishaps along the way.

Crews spread out across Petersburg, starting Monday, to check 11, 500 meters. The crews are getting the first true reading of the new water meters since last year. However, the estimated water bills aren't going away quite yet.

"I'm just confused, I'll put it that way,” said resident Stella Cummings.

Cummings and others hope the confusion over water bills will soon come to an end.

"A lot of the meters actually work, which was somewhat of a misconception,” said Daniel Harrison, Director Public Works.

The water meters use a special electronic device to transmit the reading.

But last October, when the first bills using the new system were distributed, the payment amount was way off, and at some point the process was so messy that utility bills stopped being mailed out.

After a $3 million budget shortfall in 2015 and problems with water bills that residents have been experiencing for months, many residents called for the resignation of the city manager William Johnson. He was dismissed from his duties in early March during a special closed City Council meeting.

"I feel like they should have resolved this problem a long time ago,” said resident Shelonda Green.

A three- phase process is now underway to fix the problems, the city said. And while that is underway, residents will still get estimated usage bills.

"This process will be occurring over the next 30 to 45 days, which is approximately two more billing cycles,” said Dironna Belton, Interim Petersburg City Manager

Second comes the manual process, in which, Belton explained, they will pop the caps off and read the actual meters.

This first reading creates the baseline, the next time they're read, true usage can be measured and the third and final phase takes place.

"Automation moves us out of the manual reading into where we actually use the radio communication equipment as intended."

Which means the bills that Petersburg residents have all been waiting for will be distributed in June.

"We hope that by June billing cycle, you would be receiving the actual usage on your meter."

As for the estimated bills the city is currently using a base line of $41.40, and comparing that to past water bills to come up with a dollar amount to bill users.

The city is also looking at current utility bill fees to see if they can be decreased in the future.