How Attending an APWA Workshop Saved Our City $1M

As management teams work on their budgets over the next few weeks, some might look at trimming expenses by cutting back on staff training. But my experience has been that a little bit of education can go a long way. Come, travel down memory lane with me, and I will show you how one workshop ended up saving our city $1,000,000 . . .

Many years ago, our city, like most, had meter readers who would travel from home to home or business to business reading the water meters. The meter reads were entered into a book; then office staff would transcribe these reads from the book into the computer. From there, water bills would be generated and sent out to users.

Eventually, the water industry began to offer products designed to automate this meter reading process. Through a long and involved journey, our city arrived, poised to implement a major change in our system involving water meter replacements and installation of an automatic meter reading system. The company offering our city the package quoted a price tag close to $2,000,000. Unfortunately, I was concerned that our city would not be able to afford this, and we would have to cut back and eliminate the portion of the package involving a fixed network system and instead choose a drive-by read system that the company quoted at $1,500,000.

During the time period in which our city was considering this company’s proposal, I attended a workshop hosted by the American Public Works Association (APWA) to learn about their accreditation program. One of the side benefits of these workshops is the chance to meet and talk with others involved in public works. So at the morning break, I had the chance to meet and visit with the person sitting next to me, Kevin Weaver, from Oakwood, Ohio. Oakwood was a city similar in size to LaSalle, and Kevin was their city engineer. We discussed the projects going on in our communities, and Kevin told me how his city was going through a water meter replacement project involving the installation of a fixed network. I told him how I wanted to implement something similar in our city, but told him I didn’t think we could afford the $2,000,000 cost. Well, imagine my surprise when Kevin told me his community was only paying about $900,000.

Kevin went on to explain how he had approached the bidding and implementation of his project. But with two cities of almost exactly the same size and number of meters, I still could not understand why our quoted price was so much more. Fortunately Kevin followed up after the workshop by sending me the bidding information so that I could try to figure out where the cost difference was.

At that point I shared this information with our council, and they approved allowing the project to be split into three contracts: one for supplying meters, one for supplying the fixed network components, and one for installation. Then, after getting cost proposals for each, we arrived at a project expense very close to that of Oakwood’s, about $1,000,000.

My cost to attend the workshop and conference that immediately followed was about $2,000. So for $2,000, not only was I able to gain experience and training, but because of meeting Kevin, I was able to find a way to implement the project we wanted at half the cost, saving $1,000,000.