The city of Santa Fe spent millions of dollars installing devices around town that were supposed to save time and money by allowing utility workers to use a laptop computer to remotely read water meters without getting out of their truck.
Now the city is suing to get its money back.
More than 12,725 units installed on residential and business water meters by the city of Santa Fe since 2004 have stopped working, and city officials say the manufacturer isn’t standing behind its product.
An attorney working on contract for the city filed a lawsuit in state District Court against Datamatic LTD, the Texas company that sold Santa Fe’s water utility managers about 36,000 of the Firefly meter-reading devices and associated hardware and software.
The devices came with a 10-year warranty, but the company refused to replace or repair defective units, according to the complaint filed by Wednesday by Stephen Hamilton of the Montgomery & Andrews firm.
The city of Santa Fe wants a jury to make the company return the $4.9 million purchase price plus three times that amount in damages, punitive damages and attorneys fees, the complaint states.
Hamilton said the state’s Unfair Practices Act allows the court to award the injured party in such a case triple the “actual damages,” among other penalties.
Water division leaders began buying the Firefly devices in 2004 as a labor-savers and expected them to have a lifetime of 10 years, said Brian Snyder, city Utilities Department director. As of today, he said, only about 85 percent of the city’s customers have functioning devices. That number includes many devices that have been repaired or replaced.
The situation means workers on meter-reading routes have to make a number of stops to manually check meters to determine how much water has been used. Malfunctioning meters also have caused billing errors for some customers, he said.
Snyder said the city tried to work with the company on an out-of-court solution.
The chief financial officer of Datamatic did not respond to a request for comment Thursday afternoon. The company’s website says more that 400 utilities in the nation and abroad use its systems.
In the meantime, the city water division has begun pilot work with a new automated meter-reading system to replace the Datamatic system.
Contact Julie Ann Grimm at 986-3017 or email@example.com.