SARATOGA SPRINGS — Help from above may soon come to Saratoga Springs.
The City Council this week gave the thumbs-up to a Letter of Intent for a local company pursuing a National Science Foundation grant. The grant would allow Big Rock Technologies to develop a smart-done medical supply innovation that If successful would provide the Spa City a cutting-edge component for public safety.
“Not only does it make police and fire operations more efficient, it brings incredible (drone) technology you can use right now, in the middle of a pandemic,” said Public Safety Commissioner Robin Dalton, who brought the proposal to the council table this week.
“What’s amazing about it is that it was developed for a pandemic and public health crisis but say there’s a fire - you send the drone out first to tell you where the fire started before the firefighters get there,” Commissioner Dalton said.
“You could have a drone dropping off tests or medicine to neighborhoods and not risk infection. You could send the drone out to a car accident and it puts out an immediate traffic alert, it can help for mass gatherings with crowd control, in sort of a nonviolent de-escalation method. To me it’s exciting and the future of public safety,” said Commissioner Dalton.
Area resident Adam Luaces spoke to the council regarding the company involved - Big Rock Mountain – and of Big Rock Technologies’ smart-drone medical supply chain innovations. The unmanned aerial vehicles are used to carry payloads, perform deliveries, and operate cameras to assess and execute specific, highly focused operational tasks.
“We would like to make Saratoga Springs our national testbed. We would like to build and manufacture the product at the end of the grant duration here in Saratoga County,” Luaces said, regarding the potential regional benefits should the company be successful in securing the National Science Foundation grant.
“The grant is a three-phase grant that will spread over three years and we would have this in 2022 in the area,” Luaces said. “The first part would bring $1.5 million into the area if all three phases were done here in the county, and that would allow us to open up to bigger grant programs like Smart City initiatives, and Smart NY tax abatement programs.”
The private-public collaboration could also potentially bring tech jobs to the city. The grant is a “pure grant,” meaning there is no financial match on the city’s end that is required.
Police are making use of Unmanned Aircraft Systems, or drones, during the COVID-19 crisis, according to Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum (PERF), an independent research organization that focuses on critical issues in policing. The organization recently published a 128-page report on the use of drones by public safety agencies.
Specific examples of this type of drone operation domestically during the pandemic include the Elizabeth New Jersey Police Department’s use to disperse crowds and enforce social distancing rules and the Daytona Beach Florida Police Department’s use of two drones equipped with loudspeakers to communicate with the public without getting too close, according to the PERF report. Additionally, In the United Kingdom and across Europe, police are using drones to monitor people’s movements and enforce lockdown orders, and in Israel, police are using drones to confirm that those who tested positive for COVID-19 are self-isolating.
More than 1,500 state and local police, sheriff, fire, and emergency services agencies in the U.S. are believed to have acquired drones, according to a March 2020 report published at the Center for the Study of the Drone at Bard College. The specific breakdown by Public Safety Agency mission points to 70% of those used by law enforcement, 20 % by fire and rescue, and 10% by emergency management. And there are more - the tally consists only of publicly disclosed public safety agencies that are reported to own at least one drone and does not include agencies with undisclosed drone programs or federal agencies.
COUNCIL EXTENDS OUTDOOR DINING THROUGH NEW YEAR’S EVE
The City Council adopted a resolution to extend an ordinance through the calendar year that allows eating and drinking establishments to operate outdoor seating areas on public property.
The measure, first enacted in June, targets specific public property areas and requires a permit. The council reported “the permit procedure continues to have a positive impact on our city’s local economy.” The ordinance was extended to midnight Dec. 31, 2020.
BUDGET 2021 DEADLINE IS NOV. 30
The city’s proposed annual budget for 2021 seeks to adjust to a near $7 million shortfall, due to what councilmembers referred to as a “COVID economy.” The 2021 proposal stands at just under $41.9 million, compared to the $48.7 million budget adopted late last year, for 2020. On the table: a 6% increase in property tax rates – which would increase the property tax payment on a home assessed at $200K by $6 per month, or $72 per year – as well as potential layoffs and budget cuts across all departments.
The council has until Nov. 30 to make changes to the Comprehensive Budget proposal, or the one that was proposed on Oct. 6 will be adopted. That proposal may be viewed in its entirety on the city’s website at: saratoga-springs.org. As of Nov. 18, a city meeting has not been scheduled to take place prior to month’s end.