Wi-Fi May Be Coming to Utica, N.Y.

The proposal to bring limited wireless to much of the city is among many under consideration for Utica's $2.3 million capital project plan.

by Greg Mason, Observer-Dispatch / September 10, 2018
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(TNS) — UTICA — A turf athletic field. An armored emergency response vehicle. A project to bring free, but limited wireless internet to parts of Utica.

Utica officials are looking to commit around $2.3 million to help fund those and other items included in the city's 2018-19 capital project plan.

Budget Director Heather Mowat said the city administration vetted departmental needs to determine those most immediate to include.

"Most of these were not a surprise to the mayor or the comptroller," she said. "It's just what is really necessary and when."

Certain items also need additional funding beyond the $2,312,831 allocated within the capital plan.

The city anticipates borrowing $350,000 for the nearly $2 million turf field targeted for Thomas R. Proctor Park, for example. The proposed Sal Longo Field would be chiefly funded by its namesake — who is the CEO of Northern Safety — with other monies coming from the Cal Ripken Sr. Foundation, the Community Foundation of Herkimer & Oneida Counties and state funds.

Moving forward with the capital plan requires Common Council approval.

Should the council approve the plan, the comptroller's office would determine how to best pay for it, such as borrowing methods or leasing certain items, said Comptroller William Morehouse.

"The council may whittle this down even more," Morehouse said about the plan. "The mayor's whittled it down. That's why they go through all of the departments if they think they can whittle it down even further. I've always told (the council), it takes money to run a city. You've got to borrow money. It's an ongoing thing."

The resolution is in committee, with the council's Finance Committee scheduled to discuss parts of it Wednesday. Councilman Joseph Marino, finance committee chairman, described the resolution as "almost like an entirely different budget," saying the expenses should be budgeted for without incurring interest from borrowing.

"As a resident, it's inconsiderate to do this, at best, and financially dangerous at worst," Marino said.

Here is a breakdown of some of the plan's notable inclusions:

Wireless project

  • Capital plan (proposed): $125,000
  • Estimated cost (Phase One): $275,000

City officials are exploring a project to bring limited wireless to as much of Utica as possible, starting with areas in and around downtown's Genesee Street corridor.

Target areas for the project's Phase One include Genesee Street from Oneida Square to the Franklin Square area, and the areas of Varick Street, Bagg's Square, the Adirondack Bank Center, Utica City Hall and the North Utica harbor.

"These were developed from the Industrial Development Agency (based on) the economic growth in the city of Utica where private contractors are putting loft apartments, businesses are being revitalized by outside contractors," said Frank Mutolo, the city's Information Technologies project director.

If the project were to move forward, users could expect two hours of free wireless access per 24-hour period at an expected bandwidth of five megabits per second — good enough for "normal business" but it may not be suitable for streaming, for example, Mutolo said.

That said, Mutolo described it as "strictly an outdoor wireless project" not meant to replace anyone's existing internet service.

The capital plan calls for $125,000 for the project. Another $150,000 would come from the Utica Industrial Development Agency. IDA Executive Director Jack Spaeth said the IDA board has agreed to the project in principle at this point.

It is not the first time there has been an effort to bring wireless access for Utica.

More than a decade ago, students at SUNY Polytechnic Institute — then SUNYIT — pursued a project called the Downtown Utica Wireless District. Mutolo said this project would locate the points on city-owned or public property.

"Often we're asked, 'How do you get business into the city?'" Mowat said. "When you look at other cities and their thriving downtown areas, the majority of which have wireless opportunities. That's just the expectation now."

BearCat

  • Capital plan (proposed): $237,429
  • Estimated total cost: $327,429

Utica police officials say the department has needed an armored BearCat for some time.

Officers requested the vehicle earlier this year when the city's budget was negotiated, though it ultimately was left out. With the capital plan allocations, the Utica Police Department would apply $90,000 in drug seizure funds — accrued through the federal Asset Forfeiture program — to also cover part of the cost.

A chief use for the vehicle would be for the police Department's SWAT Team.

"Right now when we deploy, we have no ballistic protection in the vehicle we have," said Capt. Don Cinque, who commands the police department's SWAT team. "It offers another layer of protection for the officers that are already doing a dangerous job."

Cinque said the BearCat identified by the Utica Police Department also would have a firefighting apparatus on the roof and could be used for medical transport.

In explaining why firefighters might need shielding, Utica police Chief Mark Williams referenced an event six years ago in Webster. A gunman set fire to his home to lure firefighters for an ambush. Of four firefighters shot, two were killed.

"I've seen what's going on nationally with these active shooter situations and barricaded persons," Williams said. "To me, it's not a matter of if it's going to happen. I think it's a matter of when it's going to happen. In that case, I want to make sure our guys have suitable protection to be able to do their jobs and give them that armored protection. We don't have it right now."

City Hall

  • Capital plan (proposed): $95,000
  • Estimated total cost: $95,000

Of the $95,000 earmarked in the plan for City Hall, $15,000 would be for security upgrades to elevators, $40,000 for repairs to the front parking lot and another $40,000 allocated for exterior window and glass replacements.

Some windows have discolored over the years, while others along the building's Cornelia Street side bear BB gun bullet holes from past incidents.

Marino particularly lambasted the decision to include the window replacements, saying the timing is inappropriate for City Hall repairs — particularly in light of a recent tax increase that came with the current city budget.

"These issues have been issues for several years," he said. "How could you have not gotten your act together to actually budget for these things and pay for them?"

Palmieri said, "At what time do we invest into our own? We're asking residents to do it and yet we're not doing it. I think from that standpoint of view, financially for many years we weren't in a position. Now that strategically we're putting this together, we have to put as much emphasis on our own curb appeal and our own product."

©2018 Observer-Dispatch, Utica, N.Y. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.