City commission takes no immediate action on smart water meters

by Kathleen Sloan | October 20, 2021
9 min read
Source: Neptune Water Services

The Truth or Consequences City Commission agreed to City Manager Bruce Swingle’s request to hold off on taking any further action on a proposal to replace its analog water meters with smart meters after a public hearing was held on the proposed multimillion-dollar project at the Oct. 13 city commission meeting.

Swingle said he wanted to assess whether the city’s electric meter replacement project completed last year for more than 4,000 customers has resulted in increased electric utility revenues and whether other promised benefits of the new smart electric meters have taken effect.

Last Wednesday’s public hearing was held to provide the city commissioners with the information they need to decide whether the city should purchase and install smart water meters. The hearing’s main presentation was given by Yearout Energy Services, the same company the city had engaged in 2017 to do an “investment-grade audit” of the need to replace T or C’s water and electric meters. Swingle asked YESCO to revisit the concept of “capturing revenue” lost from too-low meter readings from existing water meters, according to the company’s Executive Vice President Alex Montaño, who spoke with the Sun on Monday.

Montaño gave what normally would have been described on the agenda as a vendor’s presentation, but which the city labeled a public hearing. Although the city commission did not follow its own rules for public hearings, the session nonetheless constituted an official record of testimony received from the public and the commission’s decision-making process regarding whether to spend millions of dollars on the water meter replacement project.

The “City Commission Rules of Procedure,” found on the municipal website, lays out a dialectical process for public hearings in Rule 17. The city commission is to act as a neutral judge, calling on proponents and opponents and allowing the parties to rebut each other to further a deeper understanding of the issues. The process also assumes city staff has investigated the proposed project and has an informed position to impart.

On the 13th, the city commission heard from no staff person, and it was not clear if Montaño was speaking as the city’s assigned proponent. Montaño was allowed rebuttal, but not so residents who rose to give testimony and ask questions. One resident was even instructed to seek answers to his questions privately, rather than continue to ask for public explanations.


YESCO Executive Vice President Alex Montaño
YESCO Executive Vice President Alex Montaño Source: Yearout Energy Services

Montaño gave his presentation first, stating it was “informational only.” The details of the presentation, a copy of which was included in the Oct. 13 meeting packet, were covered by the Sun in this article.

After Montaño spoke, Mayor Sandra Whitehead called for proponents to give their testimony. For the record, nine members of the public spoke, and none was in favor of the project, although some stated they were neither opponents nor proponents.

Resident Rick Dumiak, who described himself as an opponent, was nonetheless allowed to speak first. YESCO’s math didn’t add up, Dumiak said. The company estimated it would cost $3.5 million to replace the water meters, an amount that would take 13 years to pay off at $250,000 a year in captured revenue. The annual payoff would actually be more than $269,000, Dumiak insisted. He also asked how smart water meters could transmit readings via radio frequency waves since the city’s water meters are underground. Montano later answered that an “emitter “would be installed on the metal cap that covers the meter. “What if a person wants to turn off the water?” Dumiak asked, raising a question about possible injury to the emitter or the customer that went unanswered.

Resident Ariel Dougherty, also an opponent, spoke next. “I think the real issue is water leaks [from city water mains] . . . the meters can wait,” Dougherty said. Manager Swingle, after the public hearing closed, verified that the city is experiencing “15 to 20 water leaks a week.”

Dougherty questioned the high purchase price of the smart water meters, pointing out that the prorated cost of outfitting each of the city’s 3,294 water customers was more than $1,000. She requested the city consider purchasing new meters that do not emit radio frequencies, which she said are suspected to be carcinogenic, although that has not yet been definitively proven. The Federal Communication Commission’s standard for harmful radio frequency emissions, Dougherty said, was set more than 23 years ago.

Resident Ron Fenn, an opponent, asked: “Who invited YESCO?” His question about the appropriateness of the vendor’s inclusion in the public hearing went unanswered. Fenn contested YESCO’s claim the meters will provide “guaranteed savings.” “We, the people, will pay for it and will get nothing for it,” Fenn maintained. “$3.5 million could buy a lot of water,” he added. “Let’s fix water lines first.”

Resident Klaus Wittern, who said he was neither for or against smart water meters, called the comments of members of the public who had preceded him a “lot of nonsense.” He suggested the city form a committee of volunteers, himself among them, to “assess the need for water meters.” He estimated the city could pay back the cost of water meters in seven years. “We can do this [analysis] in house,” Wittern said.

Resident Chris Sisney, who serves on the T or C planning and zoning commission, asked if the analog meters had been properly maintained, a question that went unanswered. He suggested that all that might be needed was to replace a “simple” paddle-wheel mechanism inside the meter to ensure an accurate reading of water consumption, even if the measured water is running at low pressure. “It could be a $1 part,” Sisney said.

In a phone call with the Sun on Monday, Sisney said he had located a water meter rebuilding kit that can be purchased for $24. “You could hire a person to rebuild meters—they could easily do 10 a day—and in about a year all of them would be as good as new. It’s a very simple machine that could easily last 100 years. That’s a lot less expensive than $3.5 million.”

At the hearing Sisney asked how the smart water meters will be powered without access to electricity. Smart water meters run on batteries, Montaño stated later, which he claimed last 10 years.

Sisney asked whether there was a danger that the emitters atop meter covers positioned in alleys would routinely be run over by vehicles. This question went unanswered.

Sisney asked if his questions could be answered by city staff or YESCO and if he could then ask follow-up questions. “Isn’t this a fact-finding proceeding?” he asked. Mayor Sandra Whitehead ruled that no “back and forth” would be allowed.

Commissioner Luna went further, instructing Sisney to “ask questions in private.” “I don’t understand this,” Luna admitted, “and it won’t help me make a decision.”

“Anybody else interested?” Sisney asked of the members of the public in attendance. Several responded: “Yes.” Unmoved, Whitehead dismissed him from the speaker’s podium.  

Resident Art Berger introduced himself as having “advised governments” on the “cost benefits” of various technical systems. He warned that one third of the “savings” estimated by YESCO would come from increased water utility fees. (The city raised water rates nearly 50 percent last year and another 5.4 percent this month.) Berger recommended that the city determine what portion of non-revenue water is lost because of broken pipes and faulty meter readings. “You need to know more,” he said.

Resident Susy Crow said the city’s smart electric meter replacement project was not “underwritten,” probably meaning the meters were not insured should they cause fire and health hazards (judging by comments made by Crow’s at previous city commission meetings). “I don’t want increased radiation in the community,” she said at the public hearing. “I don’t want the water supply radiated.”

Resident Bill Davidson and resident Bonnie Lovell, who both said they had personally witnessed frequent water leaks on the city’s streets, each advocated for addressing the issue of the city’s failing water lines before spending money on new meters.

Rule 17 allows the city commission to ask questions of any of the parties after all have spoken, but only one question was asked. Commissioner Frances Luna inquired about how much it would cost to have YESCO do an investment-grade audit of the city’s water meters. Between $22,000 and $25,000, Montaño responded, since it would be an update of the 2017 audit that cost the city about $60,000.


Montaño clarified points about the nature of YESCO’s services left uncovered in his public presentation in a phone interview with the Sun on Monday.

Founded in 1964, YESCO is an “engineering and construction company” and an “energy services company,” with offices in Albuquerque, Littleton, Colorado, and Heath, Texas. The company proposes to offer the City of Truth or Consequences a “performance contract,” having met the requirements of a “qualified provider” set forth in the “Public Facility Energy Efficiency and Water Conservation Act” (state statutes 6-23-1 through 6-23-6).

YESCO’s investment-grade audit of the city’s water meters, as well as the contract it may be awarded should the city choose to go ahead with the replacement project, must be “certified” by the New Mexico Office of the State Engineer. Among other things, the certification process will ensure that the recommended “water conservation measures meet the experience requirements set by that office and the guaranteed water savings from the water conservation measures proposed appear to be accurately estimated and reasonable,” the law states.

Montaño further explained that company’s estimate that the meter replacement project would cost $3.5 million covers only YESCO’s expenses. “We don’t handle the financing,” he said, adding that that the city would likely borrow the money from an entity like the New Mexico Finance Authority. The debt payments would be made with revenue captured from presumably more accurate and higher readings of residents’ water consumption.  

The maximum financing term allowed by state law is 25 years, Montaño said. State law also forbids a financing term longer than the life of the equipment sold.

Furthermore, the law requires that, as Montaño put it, the “city cannot be upside-down over the life of the loan or in any one year.” In other words, the annual loan payment “cannot be greater than the benefit.”

In its 2017 investment-grade audit for T or C, YESCO proposed that the city purchase smart water meters manufactured by Kamstrup, Montaño said. The project’s estimated $5.1 million cost included a 20-year warranty on the meters, matching the proposed 20-year financing term.

The State Engineer’s certification process requires all project expenses to be known in advance, Montaño said. In T or C’s case, the costs of the smart water meters, their batteries and replacement batteries, YESCO’s labor and project markup should be spelled out in YESCO’s investment-grade audit.

A well-conducted performance contract will involve ongoing communication between YESCO and the city over the course of the financing term, Montaño said. If, for example, the city were to add water customers beyond the original number included in the contract, “a non-routine adjustment” would need to be agreed upon and the contract’s guarantee terms changed. “You have to hire a company that is in it for the long term,” Montaño said.

Kathleen Sloan is the Sun’s founder and chief reporter. She can be reached at or 575-297-4146.
Share this:

Understanding New Mexico's proposed new social studies standards for K-12 students

“The primary purpose of social studies is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”
—National Council for the Social Studies 

Reader Michael L. Hayes of Las Cruces commented: What impresses me is that both the proposed standards and some of the criticisms of them are equally grotesque. I make this bold statement on the basis of my experience as a peripatetic high school and college English teacher for 45 years in many states with many students differing in race, religion, gender and socioeconomic background, and as a civic activist (PTA) in public education (My career, however, was as an independent consultant mainly in defense, energy and the environment.)

The proposed social studies standards are conceptually and instructionally flawed. For starters, a “performance standard” is not a standard at all; it is a task. Asking someone to explain something is not unlike asking someone to water the lawn. Nothing measures the performance, but without a measure, there is no standard. The teacher’s subjective judgment will be all that matters, and almost anything will count as satisfying a “performance standard,” even just trying. Students will be left to wonder “what is on the teacher’s mind?” or “have I sucked up enough.”

Four other quick criticisms of the performance standards. One, they are nearly unintelligible because they are written in jargon. PED’s use of jargon in a document intended for the public is worrisome. Bureaucrats often use jargon to confuse or conceal something uninformed, wrong or unworthy. As a result, most parents, some school board members and more than a few teachers do not understand them.

Two, the performance standards are so vague that they fail to define the education which teachers are supposed to teach, students are supposed to learn, and parents are supposed to understand. PED does not define words like “explain” or “describe” so that teachers can apply “standards” consistently and fairly. The standards do not indicate what teachers are supposed to know in order to teach or specify what students are supposed to learn. Supervisors cannot know whether teachers are teaching social studies well or poorly. The standards are so vague that the public, especially parents or guardians, cannot know the content of public education.

Three, many performance standards are simply unrealistic, especially at grade level. Under “Ethnic, Cultural and Identity Performance Standards”; then under “Diversity and Identity”; then under “Kindergarten,” one such standard is: “Identify how their family does things both the same as and different from how other people do things.” Do six-year-olds know how other people do things? Do they know whether these things are relevant to diversity and identity? Or another standard: “Describe their family history, culture, and past to current contributions of people in their main identity groups.” (A proficient writer would have hyphenated the compound adjective to avoid confusing the reader.) Do six-year-olds know so much about these things in relation to their “identity group”? Since teachers obviously do not teach them about these other people and have not taught them about these groups, why are these and similar items in the curriculum; or do teachers assign them to go home and collect this information?

Point four follows from “three”; some information relevant to some performance measures requires a disclosure of personal or family matters. The younger the students, the easier it is for teachers to invade their privacy and not only their privacy, but also the privacy of their parents or guardians, or neighbors, who may never be aware of these disclosures or not become aware of them until afterward. PED has no right to design a curriculum which requires teachers to ask students for information about themselves, parents or guardians, or neighbors, or puts teachers on the spot if the disclosures reveal criminal conduct. (Bill says Jeff’s father plays games in bed with his daughter. Lila says Angelo’s mother gives herself shots in the arm.) Since teacher-student communications have no legal protection to ensure privacy, those disclosures may become public accidentally or deliberately. The effect of these proposal standards is to turn New Mexico schools and teachers into investigative agents of the state and students into little informants or spies.

This PED proposal for social studies standards is a travesty of education despite its appeals to purportedly enlightened principles. It constitutes a clear and present danger to individual liberty and civil liberties. It should be repudiated; its development, investigated; its PED perpetrators, dismissed. No state curriculum should encourage or require the disclosure of private personal information.

I am equally outraged by the comments of some of T or C’s school board members: Christine LaFont and Julianne Stroup, two white Christian women, who belong to one of the larger minorities in America and assume white and Christian privileges. In different terms but for essentially the same reason, both oppose an education which includes lessons about historical events and trends, and social movements and developments, of other minorities. They object to the proposal for the new social studies standards because of its emphasis on individual and group identities not white or Christian. I am not going to reply with specific objections; they are too numerous and too pointed.

Ms. LaFont urges: “It’s better to address what’s similar with all Americans. It’s not good to differentiate.” Ms. Stroup adds: “Our country is not a racist country. We have to teach to respect each other. We have civil rights laws that protect everyone from discrimination. We need to teach civics, love and respect. We need to teach how to be color blind.”

Their desires for unity and homogeneity, and for mutual respect, are a contradiction and an impossibility. Aside from a shared citizenship, which implies acceptance of the Constitution, the rule of law and equality under the law, little else defines Americans. We are additionally defined by our race, religion, national origin, etc. So mutual respect requires individuals to respect others different from themselves. Disrespect desires blacks, Jews or Palestinians to assimilate or to suppress or conceal racial, religious or national origin aspects of their identity. The only people who want erasure of nonwhite, non-Christian, non-American origin aspects of identity are bigots. Ms. LaFont and Ms. Stroud want standards which, by stressing similarities and eliding differences, desire the erasure of such aspects. What they want will result in a social studies curriculum that enables white, Christian, native-born children to grow up to be bigots and all others to be their victims. This would be the academic equivalent of ethnic cleansing.


This postmortem of a case involving a 75-year-old women who went missing from her home in Hillsboro last September sheds light on the bounds of law enforcement’s capacity to respond, especially in large rural jurisdictions such as Sierra County, and underscores the critical role the public, as well as concerned family and friends, can play in assisting a missing person’s search.

Reader Jane Debrott of Hillsboro commented: Thank you for your article on the tragic loss of Betsey. I am a resident of Hillsboro, a friend of Rick and Betsey, and a member of H.E.L.P. The thing that most distresses me now, is the emphasis on Rick’s mis-naming of the color of their car. I fear that this fact will cause Rick to feel that if he had only gotten the facts right, Betsey may have been rescued before it was too late. The incident was a series of unavoidable events, out of everyone’s control, and we will never know what place the correct color of her car may have had in the outcome. It breaks my heart to think that Rick has had one more thing added to his “what ifs” concerning this incident.

Diana Tittle responded: Dear Jane, the Sun undertook this investigation at the request of a Hillsboro resident concerned about the town’s inability to mount a prompt, coordinated response to the disappearance of a neighbor. From the beginning, I shared your concern about how our findings might affect Betsy’s family and friends. After I completed my research and began writing, I weighed each detail I eventually chose to include against my desire to cause no pain and the public’s right to know about the strengths and limitations of law enforcement’s response and the public’s need to know about how to be of meaningful assistance.

There was information I withheld about the state police investigation and the recovery. But I decided to include the issue of the car’s color because the individuals who spotted Betsy’s car emphasized how its color had been key to their identification of it as the vehicle described in Betsy’s Silver Alert. Because the misinformation was corrected within a couple of hours, I also included in this story the following editorial comment meant to put the error in perspective: “The fact that law enforcement throughout the state was on the lookout in the crucial early hours after Betsy’s disappearance for an elderly woman driving a “light blue” instead of a “silver” Accord would, in retrospect, likely not have changed the outcome of the search” [emphasis added].

I would also point to the story’s overarching conclusion about the inadvisability of assigning blame for what happened: “In this case, a perfect storm of unfortunate circumstances, many of them beyond human control, hindered the search that it would fall to Hamilton’s department to lead.”

It is my hope that any pain caused by my reporting will eventually be outweighed by its contribution to a better community understanding of what it will take in the future to mount a successful missing person’s search in rural Sierra County.

2 thoughts on “City commission takes no immediate action on smart water meters”

  1. I agree with Mr. Sisney’s observation that meters can be repaired and brought to spec for much less money. I also have observed that our meters are not being read monthly, but that no notation that the reading is estimated is shown on bills.

    I propose that it is not necessary for monthly readings, but that readings by a crew of two occur on a quarterly basis, and the total is billed as one third on a monthly basis. I suggest that a crew of two be used so that one employee can clean the meter glass so that it can be read and that the customer account number be located in the meter cover and a photo be taken each time for data entry by utility staff. If the meter’s cover were closed after each reading, future cleaning would be minimal or possibly not necessary. This process would ensure that the meters are actually read, and we would save one reader-month four times a year. Since we all pay for the meter reading we should have reliable proof that it is actually being done. This is low-tech service that does not require high-tech solutions.

  2. I may be looking at this in an overly simplistic manner, but it seems to me that installing new meters when the city’s water lines are leaking significantly is akin to replacing the gas gauge when my gas tank is leaking and expecting to conserve fuel. The gauge may be old and less than accurate, but the leaking seems like a far more immediate concern, especially in terms of conservation in a desert community. If repairing the meters is a viable option, it would be the more financially sound and eco-friendly solution as well as providing employment for someone in the community.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top