Popularity Of Alert System Could Cost City More Money | News, Sports, Jobs

Councilwoman Kim Ecklund, R-At Large, speaks during Monday’s City Council Finance Committee meeting.
P-J photo by John Whittaker

A proposed citywide text alert system comes with a pretty low price tag — as long as no more than 400 people sign up for it.

The proposal was discussed briefly at the council’s June 6 work session by Mayor Eddie Sundquist in response to Marie Carrubba, D-Ward 4, saying the city needs to do a better job alerting people when streets are closed for maintenance or reconstruction. Sundquist said city residents would be able to opt into the system and choose to receive alerts on topics that interest them from the fire, police and public works departments as well as the Board of Public Utilities.

Members of the City Council’s Finance Committee approved of the concept, but there was one detail that caught their eye.

“There’s a flat fee of $4,900 and it would just be half of that for this year,” said Ryan Thompson, city comptroller. “And then there’s an additional 20 cents per month for any number of residents who sign up, I believe over 400. So depending on how many people sign up, we’ll have to take a look at that in the budget for next year.”

The $4,902 yearly flat fee is to be taken from the Mayor’s Office maintenance agreement budget. In addition to the limit of 400 residents before the additional 20 cent fee kicks in, the city would be limited to 300 employees before the additional fee begins. The city would be required to sign a three-year commitment with AlertMedia.

Elliot Raimondo, city corporation counsel, said he still receives text alerts from the city of Buffalo even though he hasn’t lived in Buffalo for the past three years, while council members said they can envision city natives who have moved away signing up just to keep tabs on what is happening in their hometown.

“My guess is we’ll probably go over 400 (users),” said Kim Ecklund, R-Ward 2 and Finance Committee chairwoman. “Because once people realize they can get these, people that don’t even live here will be thinking, ‘What’s going on in my hometown.’”

Council members also wanted additional clarity on the types of alerts that would be covered under the proposed system and which city staff positions would be tasked with sending the messages. City staff members currently use social media to push some alerts out to the public, but Sundquist said in his staff memo to the council that an alert system would be the best way for city staff to get information about road closures, public safety issues, construction or other urgent matters out to the public. The Jamestown Public Schools District uses both a text alert system and an app to communicate with parents.

Messages from the city system would be limited to 160 characters per message.

“The only thing I would suggest, and I’m making that suggestion to you, is if you can do it with not specific names,” Ecklund said. “Because if people leave or they retire …”

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