CARS HOMES JOBS

Cities seeking grant to share code data

Monday, August 5, 2013
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— When firefighters charge into a burning building, they want to know as much as they can about what they’re facing inside.

Code enforcers might know that the supposed “two-family” house has been broken up into five apartments. But right now, there’s no way for firefighters to find that out on their way to the fire.

That will change next year if the city gets a grant from the state’s Capital Region Economic Development Council.

Schenectady and Amsterdam are jointly applying for $200,000 grants — one for each city — to create a computer program that would let them share code enforcement data with every city department.

They would also share with each other — and other municipalities that choose to join in later.

Theresa Pardo, director of the Center for Technology and Government, presented the details of the grant application to the City Council on Monday. The Center would develop the program if both the city and Amsterdam get the grant.

She said Schenectady might want to share with other municipalities the names of problem landlords or tenants, to help with court cases. They might share details about difficult properties to discuss ways of dealing with common problems.

Municipalities might “mine that information to generate new insights,” she said.

The public would also be able to see some data, particularly on code violations, which are public knowledge.

The information might “allow them to take action,” she said.

Tenants might choose not to rent in a building with many violations, and neighbors might get together to help elderly or disabled residents who could not maintain their houses.

But most importantly, she said, emergency responders need access to the data — and quickly.

Dispatchers need to call up basic information and relay it to firefighters while they are driving to a fire.

Others need it too, she said.

Police officers want to know what they’re walking into when they serve warrants, while parole and child protective services need to know whether a house is potentially dangerous. Even the assessor and dog catcher could benefit, she said.

The program could also help identify welfare fraud, she added, citing circumstances where that has been done.

The catch is that the program will likely cost more than the $400,000 grant.

Mayor Gary McCarthy said the city would have to buy new technology for code enforcers so that they could file reports electronically from the field. Those reports could automatically be entered into the new program.

The city currently pays workers to enter handwritten reports into the computers.

Ending that service could negate some of the cost of tablet computers or similar technology, McCarthy said.

SOLAR POWER

In other business Monday, the council discussed installing a massive solar array at its well fields.

NYSERDA has offered the city a $556,000 grant for the array, which would be used to defray the costs of the biggest electricity-users in city government. The array could remotely power City Hall and other buildings, while collecting power from the secure facility.

The city would save $14,000 to $17,000 in the first year.

Commissioner of General Services Carl Olsen said construction would not affect the reservoir or impede repair equipment from operating in the well fields.

He urged the council to accept the grant.

“It’s not a real significant savings — not that $14,000 isn’t worth saving,” he said. “However, we are a Green City. We’ve taken just about every opportunity to reduce our carbon footprint.”

Solar City applied for the NYSERDA grant on the city’s behalf and would own and operate the solar array.

The city would not be responsible for maintenance, but the council would have to sign a 20-year contract agreeing to buy the power generated by the array, at a rate set slightly less than the city’s current electrical rate.

No decision was made; the council must decide by Sept. 20. If the council approves the project, it is slated to be operational by March 21.

 
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