(TNS) — Mayor Gary McCarthy is worried that $2 million in funding being temporarily held up by fellow Democrats over concerns about the coronavirus could jeopardize his push to put the city on the cutting edge of technology.
He acknowledged that so far most of the millions in outlay toward furthering his efforts to make Schenectady a so-called Smart City by upgrading the city's internet system and data-sharing capacity has gone to laying underground fiber optic cables and sensors. He said he needs money to further that effort.
“This would deploy throughout both these zones, the problem is if I don’t have that money, what is in place, that’s where it stops, so big chunks of Mont Pleasant and Hamilton won’t get the service,” the mayor said.
His remarks Monday came a week after a 4-3 council vote to table the request that was part of the sale of $8.75 million in bond for infrastructure, public safety, and technology improvements.
McCarthy, who has taken several trips abroad to network and tout the progress in the city, in October estimated that the city had about $5 million in available funds for the projects. The keystone of that effort is the installation of smart technology into about 22,000 street lights in neighborhoods including Hamilton Hill, Mont Pleasant, Central State Street and the downtown area.
The technology includes acoustical and optical sensors that pinpoint gunfire. It is also expected to enhance WiFi and help close the so-called digital divide in a city with a 21 percent poverty rate.
While stressing they weren’t against McCarthy’s request, the four council members who voted to hold off on the bond proposal cited the coronavirus outbreak and its impact on city coffers.
The three council members who supported the funding said the global health crisis is even more reason to move forward with Smart Cities.
Some of the detractors, including Councilwoman Marion Porterfield, have pressed McCarthy for specifics about what and how much the city has so far spent on the project. Asked about that, McCarthy cited a Power Point presentation that included a breakdown of the expenditures.
It shows that since 2017, the city has earmarked about $5 million into the Smart City budget, most of which has been depleted. As of last year, the balance on the account was $342,970. The ledger indicates that the mayor is banking on $1 million in state grants and the $2 more million from the city to pay for what is estimated to be about $3.31 million in work this year.
The slides, with pictures and graphs, also provided some general insight about visitors and the time they spent on the public Wi-Fi from March 26 to April 9.
“We’re running over a thousand a day of people who are using it, those are individual users, and those dips are on the weekends,” he said. “All this stuff will evolve more in the future, but there’s practical applications today.”
Specifically, he mentioned that lately a lot of people have been using the technology to file unemployment claims and that it allows paramedics to monitor a person who may need routine treatment or is not badly hurt where they area instead of rushing them to the emergency room.
“Some of that you can do it with cellular communication but this network is really going to allow for more cost-effective monitoring, and we’re looking to do this on a daily basis,” added McCarthy.
Porterfield said Tuesday that she wants to ensure that the Schenectady is getting the best use for the millions of bucks being spent in the name of Smart Cities.
"We're in the midst of a pandemic, and it's not business as usual because - people aren't out there laying cables, and if they are doing it, they're not doing it at the rate they were before we got hit," said Porterfield, noting "we're not saying no, we're saying we want to see how things shake out and then we'll move forward."
The Council is slated to take up the matter again Monday.
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